The Pueblo Chieftan

Whooping cough enters high school

After a Pueblo West High School student was recently diagnosed with pertussis — also known as whooping cough – health officials in the community are reminding everyone to be up to date on their vaccinations and to be vigilant about getting care when sick.

“We usually have a few cases of pertussis in Pueblo County each year,” said Sarah Joseph, public information officer for the Pueblo City-County Health Department.

“But there’ve been outbreaks and deaths in other states in the last three years, so we’re seeing an increase in cases.

“We are urging people to be up to date on vaccinations and if they have a cough, to get it checked out in a timely manner.”

The Pueblo West High School student was diagnosed last week, and a notice went out to parents, urging them to check on their child’s vaccination records and be extra careful with sickness.

“In our building, we are disinfecting and encouraging treatment if any symptoms are present,” said Pueblo West High School Principal Martha Nogare.

“We have our school nurse available to respond to student, parent and staff questions or health concerns.

“It doesn’t matter if it is one confirmed case or 20 — we take the safety and wellness of our students seriously and handle it in a cautious manner.”

Pertussis begins with a cough that progressively becomes more severe until there are coughing fits.

Other symptoms can include vomiting, breathlessness, change in facial color or a “whooping” sound may follow the coughing.

Whooping cough can be severe and dangerous in infants and young children, particularly those without the first three doses (usually given at two, four and six months).

Health officials caution that whooping cough can be easily transmitted to others, through basic daily activities.

Whopping cough disease starts like a common cold, with a runny nose or congestion and sneezing, ore perhaps a mild cough or fever.

But after one to two weeks the more severe coughing can begin.

“Half of teens who get pertussis cough for more than 10 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms usually develop in seven to 10 days after exposure, but can be anywhere from four to 21 days.

Any student diagnosed with pertussis cannot return to school until completing five days of appropriate antibiotic.

Tdap is one of the vaccines required by Colorado law for children and teens in sixth through 12th grade.

It is recommended at ages 11-12, or later if missed. Joseph said when vaccinations were updated and changed in recent years, it appears that some students appear to have missed a booster.

Adults need boosters too. The DTaP shot is for children under age 7. Single doses of Tdap are for people age 11-64.

Tdap vaccine can be given at the same time as a flu shot.

“We encourage what we call cocooning,” Joseph said.

“Babies under six months haven’t had the full vaccine, but they’re very susceptible.

“So anybody that takes care of them should be vaccinated to ‘cocoon’ the baby.

“Also very susceptible are people with asthma, COPD, cancer or other serious health issues that deal with the lungs.”

Anyone with a cough that lasts up to two weeks should contact a physician for diagnosis.

More information about pertussis, including an audio file to hear what whooping cough sounds like, is available at whoopingcough.net/symptoms.htm.

Questions about pertussis can be answered locally by the Disease Prevention and Emergency Preparedness Division at the Pueblo City-County Health Department by calling 583-9901.

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