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Officials warn of whooping cough outbreak

The Daily Star - 12/2/2017

Dec. 02--An outbreak of whooping cough has been reported in Otsego County.

Heidi Bond, public health director for the Otsego County Health Department, said Friday that there have been four confirmed cases of pertussis, known commonly as whooping cough, from Oneonta High School.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we saw more cases. The providers are aware that it's circulating, so they're testing," Bond said.

Pertussis is a respiratory disease caused by bacteria. It gets its nickname from symptomatic coughing fits. The illness is contagious and dangerous, potentially lethal, for babies and small children. The Centers for Disease Control states on its website that carriers can infect 12 to 15 people.

Bond said the outbreak is not necessarily a result of unvaccinated people, and that the vaccination is required for school attendance.

"We have good vaccination rates here. But you see cases in even highly vaccinated populations because of waning immunity," Bond said.

Pertussis was all but eradicated in the 1940s after a vaccine was developed. But it has made a comeback since the 1990s when a safer vaccine was introduced. This vaccine has fewer side effects but comes at the expense of being less effective. Called the DtaP vaccine, it also vaccinates for diphtheria and tetanus. It is administered in five doses at the age of two months, four months, six months, 15 to 18 months and 4 to 6 years.

In 2006, a booster, Tdap, was encouraged for children ages 11 to 12 by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to maintain immunity through adolescence.

The CDC recommends a Tdap booster every 10 years for people ages 11 to 64. Bond said the vaccination's lifespan is about 10 years.

A 2016 study released by Kaiser Permanente'sVaccine Study Center in Oakland, Calif., revealed that the booster may be too "short-lived" to sustain immunity into the teenage years.

The study found that in a 2014 outbreak of pertussis, rates of infection among teenagers 14 to 16 increased.

"It's not really preventable, but the community and individuals are doing all the right things," Bond said.

Bond said the school has been very responsive in working to identify cases, but it's important that parents pay attention and keep their kids out of school if they are sick, and to call a physician. Pertussis can be tested for with a nasal swab.

Symptoms start like a cold, but after two weeks the cough becomes more severe. This stage, Bond said, can last up to two months.

While antibiotics cannot stop the illness from progressing, they can reduce the communicability of the disease if taken in the first three weeks.

Two or more cases that are epi-linked, or connected through exposure, constitute an outbreak, Bond said. Locally, this isn't an annual occurrence, but it is routine.

"It's a cyclical disease," Bond said. "Every 3-5 years there tends to be a peak in the number of cases reported. That's usually seen nationwide."

Whitney Bashaw, staff writer, can be reached at (607) 441-7218 or wbashaw@thedailystar.com.


(c)2017 The Daily Star (Oneonta, N.Y.)

Visit The Daily Star (Oneonta, N.Y.) at www.thedailystar.com

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