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Whooping cough spreads in western Whiteside

MORRISON – Nearly a dozen cases of highly contagious whooping cough have been identified in western Whiteside County – most in Morrison schools – since Thursday, and more may be coming.

The problem seems to be stemming from families who do not get vaccinations, Whiteside County Health Department Administrator Beth Fiorini said Sunday.

“We are frustrated for the parents and the school involved that this outbreak continues to affect so many children,” she said. “We are especially frustrated when we find out that some of the families involved do not believe in immunizing their children.”

Anyone is susceptible to the disease, also known as pertussis, but it can be fatal to infants, who cannot be vaccinated before the age of 6 months.

That’s why it is so important for anyone who may come in contact with infants to be immunized, Fiorini said.

In the past 3 years, one Whiteside County infant died of whooping cough, and another was put in intensive care, she said.

“When families chose not to vaccinate, they are putting not only their own family at risk, but other children who are not protected from the vaccine, such as newborns,” Fiorini said.

Tests are being done to determine if the current outbreak encompasses more than 11 cases, she said, adding that 25 cases have been diagnosed in the county since Jan. 1.

The health department has implemented a “cough exclusion policy” in the Morrison School District to try to contain the outbreak.

The policy, recommended by Centers for Disease Control, keeps students and faculty who are coughing out of school until a doctor determines they do not have pertussis.

“This is an aggressive step, but one both the health department and the school district agree is necessary to put a stop to this current outbreak,” Fiorini said.

Hopefully, the school year will be over before it spreads to Sterling, Rock Falls and Dixon, she said.

Pertussis is caused by bacteria that is spread through coughing and sneezing. Symptoms usually occur 5 to 10 days after exposure, but can take as long as 21 days.

Initial symptoms are similar to those of a common cold: runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever and a mild, occasional cough. Vomiting is common, and cough medications typically don’t help.

The cough gradually becomes severe and, after a week or two, becomes spasmodic bursts of frequent, rapid coughs characterized by a high-pitched “whoop” in between coughing episodes. The whoop is more common in children.

To get a vaccine

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is highly contagious. Anyone who comes in close contact with a person with confirmed or suspected pertussis is advised to seek medical attention immediately.

Children older than 6 months and adults may be immunized against pertussis at any time. Illinois students entering the sixth and ninth grades in the 2012-13 school year will be required to show proof of receiving a tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, or Tdap, vaccine.

Immunizations are available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Whiteside County Health Department, 1300 W. Second St., Rock Falls, on a walk-in basis, and from most local health care providers.

Call WCHD at 815-626-2230 for more information or to schedule an appointment.

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