Health district warns about whooping cough

CAIRO -- A recent outbreak of pertussis, or whooping cough, has prompted public health officials to get a direct message to parents on how to protect their children from the disease.

More cases were confirmed in Grady County Friday, making a total of 17 -- 15 of whom are children. Initial reports indicated there were 12 symptomatic children and two symptomatic adults.

Notice has been sent to the public on the outbreak -- specifically to the child care facilities and physician offices involved. Even so, because this is something that has been known to have a devastating impact on the very young, the Southwest Public Health District is looking to reach out to parents as well.

"Pertussis, which is also known as whooping cough, is within the community, and it isn't limited to a single child care facility" said Dr. Jacqueline Grant, the health district's director, in a statement.

Here is what officials want parents to know:

If their children do not have symptoms but have been in close contact with children who have confirmed cases, the Grady County Health Department can call in orders for antibiotics to help prevent pertussis.

If asymptomatic children are not up-to-date on the appropriate vaccine, they should be immunized.

Children in contact with confirmed cases who have symptoms of pertussis should be seen by a health care provider.

Children with symptoms of the condition should remain home until five days have passed after they first began taking the medication received from their health care provider. Children should not return to child care earlier so as to not spread the disease to others.

Pertussis, a bacterial infection, typically begins like a cold with a nagging cough, mild fever and sneezing. After several days, the cough develops into spasms or fits that are followed in children or infants by a whooping sound as they try to catch their breath. This may be followed by vomiting.

In babies, the condition can cause breathing problems, pneumonia and swelling of the brain -- which in turn can lead to seizures and brain damage. They can die from it. The condition is generally milder in older children and adults. Most pertussis hospitalizations occur in children less than three months of age.

Health officials recommend keeping children away from people who are coughing.

"Don't take them to school when they are sick," advised Brenda Greene, deputy director for the health district.

The best recommended method of prevention is vaccination. Immunization against the condition comes in a series of injections starting at two months of age and going through 4 to 6 years of age. Adults can receive pertussis boosters from the health department if needed.

All of the cases are confined to the Grady County area. There is one infant still hospitalized.

While specific data on each individual has yet to be collected, it appears as if those who have been infected were not fully immunized.

"They may have started the series but not finished it," Greene said. "Either they have not completed the series or they are too young (to be immunized)."

Greene added that, while officials anticipate being on high alert for a few weeks, she is confident the disease will not spread.