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Eugene: Whooping Cough Outbreak

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    Posted: May 01 2018 at 1:41pm

Whooping cough outbreak reported at Eugene high school



By Alisha Roemeling

The Register-Guard

About a dozen students at Sheldon High School in Eugene have been diagnosed with whooping cough, also known as pertussis.

Lane County Public Health officials discovered the outbreak last week when a Sheldon student was diagnosed with pertussis after visiting a doctor.

“One student had a really severe cough and the doctor identified it and told us,” Lane County Public Health spokesman Jason Davis said on Monday. “So we started our process of talking to other students and people the first student had been in contact with, and (we) found out that several other students had called in sick with the same symptoms.”

“Seven (cases) have been lab confirmed,” he said. “Three are presumptive, meaning that our doctors have said ‘Yes, that’s definitely pertussis,’ and two more have symptoms that line up with the symptoms of pertussis. They’re all high school students ages 14-18.”

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Lane County typically gets about 20 whooping cough cases a year, Davis said.

That means the dozen cases linked to Sheldon High School students is one of the worst outbreaks that Lane County has seen in a “very long time,” Davis said.

Five years ago, an outbreak of whooping cough occurred at Lincoln Middle School in Cottage Grove, but relatively few students were sickened, he said.

Davis said 29 students Sheldon students who either had not been immunized or had not provided the district with records of their immunizations received letters from Lane County Public Health that advised them to stay home from school.

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacteria bordetella pertussis, and is one of the most commonly occurring vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States, Davis said.

Initial symptoms in older children and adults are similar to those of a cold, and commonly include a runny nose, sneezing and a severe cough.

Over a few days, the cough will usually worsen and can be followed by spasms and occasionally vomiting. Infants commonly demonstrate more severe symptoms, which may include gagging, gasping and a whooping sound when coughing, Davis said.

The infection is difficult for teens and adults, but it can be deadly for infants and young children, particularly those younger than 1-year old. Most deaths occur in unvaccinated children or in children too young to be vaccinated who contract the disease from a family member, according to Lane County Public Health.

“The cough for that (high school) age is more of a nuisance than anything else because it can last up to 100 days and can lead to other respiratory issues like pneumonia and bronchitis,” Davis said. “But what we really worry about is those who are infected bringing it home to infants age 0 to 6 months. They’re at a higher risk because they’ve received very little immunization and have no protection from diseases other than what they’ve received from their mothers in the womb.”

“What we compare it to this time of year is allergies,” Davis said. “You get a runny nose, an almost constant cough, and you’ll usually spike a fever, which almost never happens with allergies. Babies develop that ‘whoop’ sound and it’s not actually coughing, that sound happens because they’re gasping for air.”

Eugene School District spokeswoman Kerry Delf said district students who have not received the pertussis immunization are excluded from school until they demonstrate that they’re immunized or can prove that they’ve had pertussis and been treated for it.

“The students who are most susceptible are the ones who haven’t been immunized,” Delf said. “They can get it and share it rapidly at school.”

Davis said those who feel like they may have pertussis should avoid spending time in public places, and see their doctor as soon as possible. Bacteria is typically spread by coughing or sneezing so it’s important that people cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing, properly dispose of tissues and frequently wash their hands, Davis said.

For additional information on pertussis


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