Pertussis cases grow in Rutland
By Cristina Kumka
STAFF WRITER | November 21,2012
Confirmed cases of whooping cough have popped up in schools, including in Killington Elementary School and Rutland Town School, and according to the state Health Department, Rutland County’s rate of those infected is growing at a faster pace than the rest of the state.
Otherwise known as pertussis, whooping cough is an acute disease of the lungs caused by bacterium and leads to repeated severe coughing that usually deters sleep but that can also, if not treated, lead to pneumonia, according to the Department.
It is contagious for three weeks after a person is infected and most cases are seen in children ages 10-14 but anyone can get it.
It is most dangerous in infants who have not had their pertussis immunization at 2 months of age.
In Vermont, there have been 412 cases this year.
In Rutland County, there have been 33 reported cases in the last six weeks.
Susan Shoenfeld, deputy state epidemiologist for the state Health Department, said the numbers “very high,” and classified it as an “outbreak,” in Vermont that began last November in Chittenden County.
The upward trend of cases is not exclusive to Vermont.
Schoenfeld said it’s a national health issue and experts are studying why even those who have been vaccinated against pertussis are still getting it.
In the school’s latest newsletter, Killington Elementary School Nurse Jamie Sudol wrote, “As many of you know, KES has had several confirmed cases of pertussis (whooping cough) as well as other illnesses such as intestinal bugs and common colds. Consequently, I have had multiple conversations with the Vermont Department of Health. Pertussis is at a 50-year record high in Vermont. The causes for this may include waning effectiveness of the vaccine, and the fact that this is a particularly virulent strain of Pertussis.”
Sudol, based on advice from the Department, recommended parents ensure children wash their hands frequently, with soap and warm water.
“Teach your child to cover a cough with her elbow, not her hands,” Sudol wrote. “Emphasize the importance of not sharing items, especially drinks. If your child has been coughing persistently for several days, please call the pediatrician and insist that your child is tested for pertussis ... you may be called to pick up your child at school if we feel that he/she is coughing uncontrollably. Please ensure that your child is getting proper nutrition and sleep. Infants and young children should be kept away from anyone with a cough. If your child is coughing, please minimize their after school contact with other children until their cough subsides.”
Schoenfeld confirmed that the number one protection against pertussis is immunization but the second best is, when detected, antibiotics.
She also said anyone exposed to someone with pertussis should be put on a round of antibiotics to prevent them from getting it.
If contracted and treated with medicine, the Health Department is asking people or children to stay home for five days and out of school, work and activities.
Antibiotics are not recommended for whole classrooms but are recommended for anyone living in the same household as someone who is infected.
“Rutland is very active with cases now. People should pay attention and watch and listen for cough,” Schoenfeld said.
She described the cough as one that increases in severity and occurs one right after the other and in some cases, coughs that make it difficult to catch your breath.
If you think you or a family member might have pertussis, contact your health care provider.
For further information about pertussis, go to healthvermont.gov or call the Vermont Department of Health, Epidemiology Field Unit at (800) 640-4374 or 863-7240.