A seventh grade student at Cole Middle School has been diagnosed with pertussis, also known as whooping cough. The school notified parents Tuesday that their child may have been exposed, particularly students on the varsity basketball team. (The school did not indicate the student’s gender.)
Pertussis is a bacterial infection that affects the lungs and breathing passages, according to the R.I. Dept. of Health. It is spread from person-to-person by close contact. Pertussis is also known as “whooping cough” because of the “whoop” sound that children or other patients sometimes make during coughing. Pertussis usually starts with cold-like symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing and a runny nose. The dry cough can last one to six weeks or more, and the coughing fits can result in difficulty breathing. It is often diagnosed after a cough lasts more than one to two weeks.
The cough is usually not harmful to adults and older children, but can be dangerous for babies. Sometimes children have a hard time catching their breath. It is not unusual for children to spit up, vomit, or be exhausted after coughing. Infants might also have breathing problems or develop serious medical conditions such as pneumonia, seizures, and brain damage.
Most children are immunized against pertussis through the DTaP vaccine as babies. The booster – Tdap – is required for all children entering seventh grade. Both vaccines provide immunity against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.
However, according to Dept. of Health spokesman James Palmer, “the vaccine is not as effective as we would like.”
The health department offers these guidelines:
The germs that cause pertussis live in the nose, mouth, and throat and are spread directly through droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or breathes. Infection can take place when these droplets land and enter another person’s mouth, nose, or eyes. The disease can spread during the cold-like symptom stage and for at least 2 weeks after coughing starts. The first symptoms usually appear 7 to 10 days after a person is exposed, but it can take up to 21 days.
Vaccination is the best protection. Pregnant women should get the Tdap vaccine during the third trimester of each pregnancy (after 27 weeks). If they have not been vaccinated during the pregnancy, then they should receive a dose of Tdap before they leave the birthing hospital. Pertussis is very harmful to babies. Everyone around them needs to be vaccinated to surround them with protection.
If your child is coughing, please contact your child’s healthcare provider for evaluation and testing for pertussis and bring this advisory with you. If the healthcare provider thinks your child has pertussis and/or prescribes treatment, keep your child home from school and all activities until he/she has completed five days of antibiotics (even if test results are not back yet). If the healthcare provider does not suspect pertussis is the cause of your child’s symptoms, your child may return to school and all other activities.
If your child is not coughing but DOES have a weakened immune system or DOES live with a high risk individual (defined as an infant under 12 months, a pregnant woman in her third trimester, or anyone with a weakened immune system), preventive antibiotics are recommended for your child to prevent illness and to prevent pertussis from spreading. To obtain preventive antibiotics for your child please contact your child’s healthcare provider to share this advisory.
If your child is not coughing and DOES NOT have a weakened immune system and DOES NOT live with a high risk individual as defined above, no preventive antibiotics are recommended. Please continue to monitor your child for symptoms over the next three weeks.
Additional clinical and laboratory guidance may be found at http://health.ri.gov/publications/guidelines/treatmentmanagementandreporting/Pertussis.pdf and on the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis.