Schools taking precautions for pertussis

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, has been confirmed in Marion County, according to health officials.

While the number of children affected by pertussis is small, local schools are taking precautions to ensure the safety of students.

Alissa Unruh, a registered nurse for USD 410 in Hillsboro, said prevention is the key.

?Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease,? she said, ?and it can be serious in children up to 7 years old, and in those not completely immunized against it.?

The bacteria is spread by inhaling infected droplets of a coughing or sneezing child, she said.

At increased risk, she added, are those having direct contact with individuals exposed to an infected child.

Unruh suggests if a child is diagnosed by a doctor with pertussis, the school should be notified.

At that point, she added, the school could request children be kept home from school and activities until they are on antibiotics to treat the illness.

Area school reports

According to information provided by local school officials, only a slight number of cases have been reported.

Justin Wasmuth, principal at Marion Elementary School, said they have had one confirmed case of pertussis.

?The parents saw the signs over the weekend about a month and a half ago and kept the child out of school for the recommended period of time of five days after the antibiotics started,? he said.

Wasmuth said he and other staff members also had conversations with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the health department about handling the situation and further communication with families.

?We did send a letter home to parents about increased awareness about infectious diseases and signs to look for,? he said. ?When parents report any symptoms or concerns, we recommend to parents that they see their family physicians as soon as possible.?

Regarding absenteeism, Wasmuth said MES is ?very close? to last year?s numbers.

?We still have lots of school left and winter is coming up, so we might see a bit of an uptick coming.?

Marion Middle School principal Missy Stubenhofer said no incidents of whooping cough have been reported.

?Our attendance has been very good this first nine weeks,? she said. ?We have not seen any lengthy illnesses of any sort, so far.?

Ron Traxson, Peabody Public School superintendent, said other than the ?usual bugs,? the district hasn?t seen any incidents of whooping cough.

But regarding the possibility of students having this illness, Traxson said the district is encouraging pertussis vaccinations as part of routine childhood immunizations.

?In the district?s October newsletter,? he said, ?parents are urged to make sure their children?s immunizations are current.?

Max Heinrichs, principal at Hillsboro High School, said: ?At this point, we have had no pertussis that he knows of.?

Symptoms

In mid-October when health officials starting seeing a small number of cases, schools within the district provided information to help parents, Unruh said.

Some of the symptoms parents were asked to watch included runny or stuffed-up nose, sneezing, mild cough and, in infants, a pause in breathing.

After one to two weeks, coughing, which can be severe, starts.

Children and babies can cough very hard, over and over.

When children gasp for breath after a coughing fit, they make a ?whooping? sound, but babies might not make this sound.

Officials also explained that these coughing fits make it hard for a person to breathe, eat, drink or sleep.

?Coughing may happen more at night,? Unruh said.

Sometimes, these coughing fits can last up to 10 weeks and recur with the next respiratory illness.

Recommendations

Some of the recommendations Unruh and other health officials advice parents include:

? reviewing their children?s health record to determine their vaccination status.

? observing any symptoms a child might have such as a runny nose; sudden, uncontrollable bursts or spells of coughing that persist and sometimes can cause vomiting.

? visiting with their child?s care provider if cold symptoms and cough persist for more than two weeks, without other explanation.

? allowing children to return to school, if their medical condition allows, five days after starting appropriate antibiotics.

Vaccinations

Marion County health professionals also are offering the following reminders regarding pertussis-containing vaccines for various age groups.

Children under age 7 should have the following vaccination series: DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) at 2, 4 and 6 months; first booster at 15 to 18 months old; and second booster at 4 to 6 years of age.

Children ages 7 through 10 should have received a dose of Tdap (diphtheria and pertussis) at the earliest opportunity.

Children ages 11 and 12 should receive a Tdap booster. Teens that have not yet had that booster should get one.

Adults that have not received a dose of Tdap should receive a dose or consult with their primary care physician.

Infants under a year are mostly likely to experience severe illness if they develop pertussis. When possible, health officials urge young infants should be kept away from people with a cough.

For more information on pertussis or getting vaccinated, call the Marion County Health Department at 620-382-2550.

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