WASHINGTON — A notice informing Washington Community School District parents of confirmed cases of pertussis at several school buildings was sent out on Tuesday, Nov. 5. The notice, which was issued by the Washington County Public Health, was sent to parents at Lincoln Elementary School, Steward Elementary School and Washington Middle School.
The notice outlines that pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is “an infection that affects the airways and is easily spread from person to person by coughing or sneezing,” and that the infection’s symptoms have two stages.
“The first stage begins like a cold with a runny nose, sneezing, and cough ... The second stage is marked by uncontrolled coughing spells and a whooping noise (in young children) when the person inhales. During severe coughing spells, a person may vomit or become blue in the face from lack of air,” the notice reads.
The letter also noted that “pertussis can be very dangerous for infants and people with lung problems or weakened immune systems. In adolescents and adults, Pertussis often presents as an illness with a long-lasting cough.”
Recommendations from the Department of Public Health suggests parents have their children “evaluated by [a] health care provider” if they are exhibiting symptoms and to make sure family vaccinations are up-to-date.
Lynn Fisher, a public health nurse for Washington County who works with the school district, stated parents can help contain spreading of the infection by keeping their children home if they are ill. Other tips Fisher highlighted included “washing hands frequently” and practicing “good cough etiquette,” which includes using tissues when coughing and immediately disposing of used tissues afterward.
Fisher explained that children in the school district are expected to have completed a series of five shots that includes a pertussis vaccine component. The series of shots is usually administered to children when they are 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and 18 months old, as well as when they are 4 years old before starting school. The vaccinations are a requirement by the district for students, in addition to a booster dose for seventh-graders at the middle school. However, even with all required shots, after four doses, the vaccine is only 70 to 90 percent effective.
Fisher confirmed that there are currently five cases of pertussis in the county, most of which are concentrated in Washington. The size of the outbreak can vary in size and the public health nurse noted that it “could be as small as four to five cases,” however “some surrounding counties had up to 30 cases.”
If a person has contracted pertussis, Fisher explained that an antibiotic treatment is administered.
Parents and community members who are interested in receiving more information can reach Lynn Fisher at Washington County Public Health at 319-653-7758, Ext. 113.
Washington Community School District Superintendent Willie Stone could not be reached for comment on the outbreak at the time of publication.