Whooping cough widespread in Weld County schools, health officials report | MyWindsorNow.com

Whooping cough widespread in Weld County schools, health officials report

Casey Kelly
ckelly@greeleytribune.com

Seven Weld County schools are reporting at least one confirmed case of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment announced Thursday.

Weld County averages about four cases per year, but this year has seen 96 diagnosed cases, according to Eric Aakko, public information officer for the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment.

Theresa Myers, director of communications for Greeley-Evans School District 6, said the district works closely with the health department when students are found to have whooping cough.

"This is a normal thing for us," Myers said. "It happens every year."

Myers said the seven schools include one charter school, and Aakko said two of the schools have about five confirmed cases. He said the cases aren't confined to any specific geographic area.

Both Myers and Aakko declined to release the names of the seven schools affected by the outbreak, and Myers said not all seven are in District 6. A Freedom of Information Act request was submitted to Greeley-Evans School District 6 for any letters sent home to parents regarding the outbreak. By law, the district has three days to respond.

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Myers said when multiple students at a school are diagnosed with whooping cough, the school sends a letter home to parents with symptoms they should be looking for in their child.

If parents do suspect their child has whooping cough, she said they strongly recommend the parent keep their child out of school and take the child to the doctor immediately.

Pertussis vaccinations are required as part of students' vaccinations, Myers said, adding that the district also recommends parents, teachers or anyone who is in regular contact with kids get a booster vaccination.

She said schools are allowed under state law to keep kids out of school if they are not up to date on their vaccinations and did keep some students out this year who did not have their immunizations up to date on the Nov. 4 deadline. She said the students have since been immunized and returned to school.

The district has a strict protocol for cleaning in their schools, and Myers said they "beef up" the cleaning regimen if an outbreak occurs.

District schools also have health clerks that are trained to spot symptoms of communicable diseases and can recommend that a child see a doctor, Myers said. If a child is diagnosed with a communicable disease, she said they are not allowed to return to school until they have undergone a full regimen of antibiotics.

About whooping cough

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a bacterial infection that can easily spread though the air in droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The illness often starts with cold-like symptoms, including sneezing, a runny nose or low-grade fever, along with a mild cough, according to the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment. The cough usually becomes more severe during the first week or two, and sometimes is characterized by episodes of rapid coughs — a coughing fit — followed by a high-pitched whoop, vomiting, or breathlessness. The health department offers the following tips to control the spread of the illness:

» Get vaccinated. According to a study conducted in 2009 by Kaiser Permanente, unvaccinated children are 23 times more likely to become infected with whooping cough, than those who have been immunized.

» Get tested by a health care provider if a cough lasts longer than two weeks in order to receive the appropriate treatment.

» Always cover your cough and wash your hands. The health department also recommends “cocooning” vaccination efforts beyond the parents and siblings by encouraging grandparents and care givers to get vaccinated, in order to protect the infants and children they are caring for from pertussis.

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