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More whooping cough at IMS

Reporter Staff

The King County Public Health department says that at least four students at Islander Middle School have Pertussis, a sometimes serious ailment commonly known as whooping cough.

A letter was sent home with students at the school just before Thanksgiving informing families that two more students have been diagnosed with pertussis. At least one other student was diagnosed earlier in November. King County Public Health officials indicated on Monday that they believe that at least one additional child has the illness, bringing the total number to four. County officials expect that more cases could be found at the school.

At least one of the students was contagious from October 28 through November 18. If a student becomes ill between Nov. 3 and Dec. 9, with a low grade fever and persistent cough, public health officials say it could be pertussis.

Dr. Jeff Duchin, the Chief of the Communicable Disease Control program at the King County Public Health Department, told the Reporter Monday that the number of Pertussis cases in the county is up 30 percent from last year.

As of Oct. 31, 2004 in King County, there were 189 cases to date. As of Oct. 31 this year, 246 cases of the ailment were counted.

``We see cases every year. There are always cases in schools,'' Duchin said. ``The incidence of new cases rises and falls in a cyclical pattern. These latest numbers are probably the tip of the iceberg.

Often, adults who have had a persistent bad cough for two weeks or more could have the disease, he explained.

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection; immunity from childhood vaccination wanes over time, leaving adolescents susceptible. Pertussis in adolescents ranges from mild cough and illness to classic pertussis which involves violent spasms of coughing and a whooping sound as the patient draws a breath after the cough.

From a public health perspective, pertussis is a particular problem for three groups, Duchin explained. First, the very young are at greatest risk. Infants, a year or younger are the most vulnerable. Secondly, women who are pregnant and close to giving birth are also at risk if they contract the illness. Lastly, health care workers are also considered having an advanced risk working with ill people and have the potential to spread it further.

Protection from vaccines given to young children has been found to wane over time. As such new vaccines have been developed.

The National Immunization Program of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended changes in immunizations for both adolescents and adults. Two new vaccines that will serve as immune boosters for pertussis for have been approved this year for adolescents. The vaccine is recommended to be administered with the tetanus and diphtheria vaccines within the DTaP shots now routinely given. The agency recommends the routine use of the new DTaP combination vaccines in adolescents aged 11--18 years as a booster to replace the simpler tetanus and diphtheria combination usually administered.

For adults, another vaccine for pertussis has also been approved and is recommended by the CDC in November, Duchin said. Again the vaccine would be combined with the tetanus and diphtheria doses already given.

The advice from public health officials for individuals who are concerned that they or their children have the disease is to contact their physician's office.

The decrease in pertussis incidence over many years -- the result of vaccination programs -- may have created the impression that pertussis was becoming milder and more scarce, the CDC Web site said.

The CDC Web site states: ``Of the vaccine-preventable diseases, pertussis rivals measles and neonatal tetanus in importance and severity among young children in the developing world.''

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