Important Health Alert: Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

September 2012

Many of you have heard about the increase in cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough. This trend is evident both nationally and here in Maine. As we begin the school year, please review the attached fact sheet about pertussis as well as the immunization recommendations for children and adults and keep in mind the following:

  • Pertussis is caused by a bacteria, bordatella pertussis. Diagnosis is confirmed by a nasal swab and culture results. Unless the diagnosis is confirmed by a culture, the individual is not considered to have pertussis.

  • Pertussis causes persistent coughing, sometimes accompanied by a "whoop" which is how it got the name whooping cough. This "whoop" is not as common in older children and adults, but the persistent cough is always present. A persistent cough has many causes, so correct diagnosis by culture is very important to allow for prompt treatment and prevention of the spread of pertussis.

  • Pertussis is spread through airborne droplets. A person with pertussis can be contagious for 21 days. If the person diagnosed with pertussis has been treated with antibiotics for 5 days, the person is no longer contagious, but will continue to cough. A person is not considered contagious if another family member has been diagnosed with pertussis, although a doctor may sometimes treat other family members preventively. The CDC provides specific guidelines for return to school or work once antibiotic treatment for pertussis is complete. Contact your school nurse for more for more information about this.

  • Pertussis is most dangerous to unvaccinated infants and may cause death in these infants. Older children and adults will have severe and prolonged coughing, but the illness is generally not life-threatening.

  • Pertussis protection from childhood shots wears off in late childhood. A pertussis booster in the form of tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) vaccine is recommended for students age 11-18 and adults age 19 and over who have not had a booster. Check with your doctor to see if you have had tdap and, if not, schedule an immunization appointment.

  • Any child or adult with a persistent cough should be evaluated by their primary health care provider for evaluation and treatment to prevent unnecessary spread of this infection.

  • Please contact your school nurse if you have further questions about pertussis.



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