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Aurora

Whooping cough outbreak in Walworth County



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May 09, 2012 | 07:52 AM
Walworth County experiencing an outbreak of whooping cough.

Since the beginning of 2012, the Walworth County Health Department has investigated more than 150 possible cases. Of those, 54 are confirmed and probable cases, a press release says.

The scientific name for whooping cough is pertussis.

Walworth County Public Health Officer Pat Grove said public health nurses are contacting all known contacts of the individuals with pertussis to determine their risk. Statewide, almost 1,900 cases have been reported, compared to only 158 one year ago. Children ages 5 to 14 accounted for more than 62 percent of all investigations.

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing. The coughing can make it hard to breathe and the deep "whooping" sound is sometimes heard when the patient tries to take a breath in between coughs, Grove said. If someone with whooping cough sneezes or coughs, tiny droplets which hold the bacteria spread through the air, placing others at risk for contracting the disease. While vaccination is helpful, it is possible to get pertussis even when fully vaccinated.

Grove said the first symptoms are similar to the common cold, sometimes with a cough. Several days later, most people notice that the cough suddenly becomes much worse, resulting in uncontrollable coughing. These coughing spells can sometimes lead to vomiting. While healthy adults and older children usually recover completely from pertussis, infants under the age of one year are at risk of major complications, even death. Most infants who get pertussis are exposed to it from the adults around them, especially parents and grandparents.

If a person suspects they have whooping cough, Grove suggests calling the health care provider and ask to be tested for it. The person may be asked to wear a mask upon arrival at the office. Pertussis is tested from a sample taken from nasal secretions. Because test results can take a few days, if the health provider suspects whooping cough, treatment with an appropriate antibiotic will be started immediately.

If anyone suspects they may have whooping cough, they should stay home and avoid contact with other people, Grove said. Grove said especially small children and infants are especially vulnerable until after completion of five full days of antibiotics, even if the test result is negative. All suspected cases of pertussis are reported to the health department, per state mandate, for investigation.

Anyone who spends time with infants and young children should receive a booster of the pertussis vaccine, according to Grove. This is given in combination with the tetanus booster. Check with the individual's health care provider to see if the vaccine has been given. If a tetanus booster shot did not contain pertussis vaccine, the person should get another one with pertussis, no matter how long it has been since a booster.

To prevent catching pertussis, use good hand washing, avoid close contact with others that have a cough, see the health care provider if there is a serious cough after having a cold, especially if the cough lasts for weeks, and consider getting a vaccine. It is highly effective and can prevent quite serious complications.

Vaccines are available for low or no cost at the Walworth County Public Health immunization clinics, located at the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services, W4051 County Highway NN, next to Aurora Lakeland Medical Center.

The clinics operate on a first-come, first-served basis. They are open from 3 to 6 p.m. on the first Thursday and second Tuesday of each month; from 9 to 11 a.m. the third Tuesday of the month; and from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of the month.

Appointments also are available by calling (262) 741-3140.

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