Whooping cough outbreak in schools spreads

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Latest case confirmed at Saffell; health department offering vaccine

By Meaghan Downs

Another Anderson County elementary student has contracted whooping cough, this time a third grader at Saffell Street Elementary.
Anderson County Health Director Tim Wright confirmed Tuesday morning that a positive case of pertussis or “whooping cough” was detected and confirmed at Saffell Street Elementary Monday afternoon.   
Two more positive cases from Emma B. Ward Elementary were reported a day later, Wright said, bringing the total number of infections to eight in the county as of Tuesday afternoon.  
Six students from Ward were diagnosed with whooping cough — four in the fifth grade, one in fourth grade and one in second grade — as well as the third grader from Saffell Street.
An eighth positive case of whooping cough involved an infant outside of the school system who came into direct contact with a Ward student, Wright said.
Other students and staff have been tested for whooping cough, he said, but tests take about 36 hours to show results.
Wright said the health department, located at 1180 Glensboro Road in Lawrenceburg, will provide $5 whooping cough immunizations for adults and children 11 years of age and older.
The health department will be open to walk-ins seeking the whooping cough vaccine from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. today (Wednesday).
The vaccine is in limited supply, and immunizations are first come, first served, Wright said.
“If we’re not overwhelmed, we’re going to try to take care of everyone that walks in,” Wright said.  
Wright said he has not confirmed if the state epidemiology department will recommend the entire Saffell Street third grade be immunized for whooping cough.   
The Saffell Street third grader contracted the bacterial infection after coming into contact with a positive case at Ward Elementary, Wright said.
As of Tuesday morning, only one case of whooping cough has been detected at Saffell Street; two or more cases indicate an “outbreak,” he said.
Superintendent Sheila Mitchell said Saffell Street Elementary parents were notified of the new whooping cough case with a letter sent home Monday, and close contacts of the third grade student who contracted whooping cough were also contacted by phone.
In a press release sent Tuesday morning, Mitchell explains, “a confirmed case of pertussis is diagnosed by a medical doctor and confirmed by the health department.  Other children may be undergoing preventative treatment or being treated for whooping cough like symptoms that have not been confirmed or diagnosed.”
The Anderson County Health Department vaccinated 32 Emma B. Ward students during an immunization clinic last Friday after the superintendent and public health director declared a whooping cough outbreak at the school.  
An outbreak of pertussis or “whooping cough” was confirmed last Thursday morning at Emma B. Ward Elementary, according to Wright and Superintendent Sheila Mitchell said.
The initial positive cases of whooping cough reported at Ward on Thursday were isolated to a single fifth grade classroom, Wright said.
According to Wright, the first student at Ward to contract whooping cough first visited the doctor on Oct. 22, but the case was not officially confirmed until Nov. 9.
The state epidemiology department, which had been working with the school and the heath department, recommended all fifth grade students at Ward be immunized for whooping cough.
The Anderson County Health Department provided free whooping cough vaccinations Nov. 16 for Ward students and staff who might have been in contact with others who contracted the infection.
Wright said about 32 out of 71 fifth graders received the vaccine, as well as Ward staff including bus drivers, and janitorial and kitchen staff for a total 85 immunizations. Some bus drivers who were unable to make the immunization clinic on Friday came to the health department Monday morning to be vaccinated, he said.  
Students receive their first round of the whooping cough vaccination before entering first grade, Wright said, and again before enrolling in the sixth grade.
“Usually this vaccination is for 11 year olds and up, but because of the outbreak, we’re going to drop down and take 10 year olds,” Wright said.
According to a news release from Superintendent Mitchell, a letter was sent home to parents of students informing them of confirmed whooping cough cases and to look for symptoms of the infection. Ward would implement additional thorough cleanings and mid-day cleanings until further notice, she said.
“Parents of students in close contact were called by phone and will continue to be contacted if additional cases are confirmed,” according to Mitchell’s release.  
Pertussis, known commonly as “whooping cough” for the high-pitched “whoop” noise patients make when trying to breathe, is a bacterial infection that is highly contagious even three days after it is first contracted.
Whooping cough, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, may last up to six weeks and coughing spells may result in vomiting, runny nose, a slight fever or diarrhea.
Wright said the vaccination may not prevent those elementary students who have already been in contact with whooping cough from getting it; the infection usually takes 10-14 days to show symptoms. Receiving the vaccine after already being exposed to whooping cough will not prevent students from getting whooping cough now, but the immunization may prevent a positive case in the future.
“Hopefully, it will prevent them from getting it in the future,” Wright said, adding that all fifth grade students are required to be immunized for whooping cough before enrolling in the sixth grade.
Wright said the health department would monitor other Anderson County schools for potential whooping cough cases.
The health department has also contacted medical providers in the area to inform providers to not only treat symptomatic patients, but also those in contact with a positive pertussis case.
More information about the outbreak is available on the district’s website at http://www.anderson.k12.ky.us/.