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Pertussis cases confirmed at North Douglas Elementary School

(File photo/SBG)

DRAIN, Ore. -- Douglas Public Health Network has confirmed two cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, at North Douglas Elementary School.

One case was confirmed in the beginning of May and another case on Thursday, leading public health officials to declare an outbreak of the highly contagious and serious illness.

When an outbreak is declared, Oregon Administrative Rule 333-019-0010 requires students who do not meet immunization requirements to be excluded from attending school: “Because pertussis is a restrictable, reportable disease, OAR 333-019-0010(3) requires that exposed, undervaccinated children be excluded from attendance at school and children’s facilities (for 21 days after their last exposure) unless the local health officer determines that exclusion is not necessary to protect the public’s health.”

Fourteen North Douglas Elementary School students who are either not immunized, under-immunized or have not turned in records of immunization are subject to the exclusion period that started Friday, June 1. Public health officials limited exclusions to under-vaccinated students in kindergarten through fourth-grade because they had overlapping exposures.

“We fully support parents’ legal rights and choice to determine whether their children receive immunizations,” said North Douglas School District Superintendent John Lahley. “However, we must obey the law that requires schools to exclude students when cases of pertussis are confirmed within our district. Local health officials determine the threshold for this process, and we must follow their directives.”

If excluded students receive vaccinations, they may be allowed to return to school within the 21-day period.

Students affected by the exclusionary period have completed state testing for the year and will not be penalized for missing any remaining class projects or tests. The last day of school for students is June 14.

“Based upon a determination that is out of the control of parents and the district, school officials have determined to not penalize any of the excluded students with final projects or test/exams,” Lahley said. “Students will be graded based upon their performance up to the date of exclusion.”

Numerous cases of pertussis have been identified in Lane County. Several schools in multiple school districts in that county have active outbreaks that have required exclusionary measures to be implemented.

It is important for the community to understand steps that can be taken to prevent further spreading of the disease, health officials say. Douglas Public Health Network advises that students who have been vaccinated may still be at risk of pertussis. Teachers and staff should be on the lookout for symptoms.

Below are guidelines from the Oregon Health Authority.

PERTUSSIS FACTS FROM OREGON HEALTH AUTHORITY:

What is pertussis?

Pertussis, also called “whooping cough,” is a respiratory disease caused by bacteria. It often causes serious problems in babies, but is usually milder in older children and adults.

Who gets pertussis?

Pertussis can occur at any age, but infants and young children are at the highest risk of life-threatening consequences. In Oregon, many pertussis cases occur in newborns that are too young to be immunized.

What are the symptoms of pertussis?

  • The first symptoms - runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and cough – usually appear five to 21 days after a person is infected.
  • After one or two weeks, the cough gets worse and usually starts to occur in strong fits of coughing. This may last six weeks or longer.
  • In children, coughing fits are often followed by a whooping sound as they try to catch their breath.
  • After coughing, infected people may have difficulty catching their breath, vomit or become blue in the face from lack of air. The coughing spells may be so severe that it is hard for babies to eat, drink or breathe.

How is pertussis spread?

  • Bacteria live in the nose, mouth and throat, and are sprayed into the air when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks.
  • Touching a tissue or sharing a cup can also spread the disease.
  • Older adolescents, adults and parents who may have a mild illness can spread the disease to infants and young children in the household.

Is pertussis dangerous?

Pertussis can be very dangerous for infants who have the highest risk of pertussis-related complications and death.

How is pertussis diagnosed?

A doctor may diagnosis pertussis based on symptoms and laboratory tests.

How do you treat it?

Pertussis is treated with antibiotics.

How do you prevent pertussis?

  • Immunization is the best way to prevent pertussis. Children need a series of five DTaP vaccinations starting at 2 months of age until kindergarten. Immunity wears off, so adolescents and adults need a Tdap booster shot. The booster helps protect adolescents and adults from getting pertussis and spreading it to vulnerable infants. Pertussis vaccines are required for school and child care attendance in Oregon. Pregnant women should ask their health care provider about getting a Tdap booster in their third trimester of each pregnancy to protect their babies.
  • Cover your cough and wash your hands.
  • Keep babies away from anyone who is coughing.

Is the pertussis vaccine safe?

Yes, the vaccine is safe though there is a slight risk of problems such as a pain and swelling at the injection site or fever. But the risk of the disease is much more serious.

Is there any pertussis in Oregon?

Yes. In 2012 Oregon experienced a pertussis epidemic with the most cases seen since 1953.

Where can I get more information?

Ask your health care provider, contact Douglas Public Health Network at 541-440-3571 or visit the Oregon Immunization Program’s website at www.healthoregon.org/imm.

Umpqua Community Health Center can provide vaccinations and has ample supplies.

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