An outbreak of pertussis, or whooping cough, in the Hutchinson area continues to spread. The Reno County Health Department is investigating more than 70 cases.
So far, 46 of those cases have been confirmed as pertussis. Most of them involve school-age children. The highly contagious disease is spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
The early symptoms of pertussis — runny nose, low-grade fever and cough — often are mistaken for the common cold, according to Ivonne Rivera-Newberry, assistant director of clinical service operations at the Reno County Health Department. But the illness can be serious, even fatal, especially in infants.
“We have had no deaths,” Rivera-Newberry said. “This is why we’ve offered the free TDaP (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine) clinic for 11-year-olds and older.”
Rivera-Newberry said pertussis can be treated with antibiotics, but it’s important that anyone infected with it take care not to spread it to other people.
“Please stay home,” she said. “Stay away from any activities. Stay away from day care.”
Simple precautions like hand-washing also can minimize the spread of pertussis, Rivera-Newberry said.
She’s heard some people ask why some who have been vaccinated are still getting sick with pertussis. Rivera-Newberry said vaccination offers the best protection, but no vaccine is 100 percent effective. Still, a person who contracts pertussis after being vaccinated usually will have a milder case.
Also, immunity from the vaccine tends to wane over time. That’s why people are encouraged to get booster shots. The TDaP vaccine is recommended now for pregnant women because it maximizes protection for the baby.
With the start of school just two weeks away, the main concern for Reno County health officials is the elevated risk of pertussis transmission.
Rivera-Newberry said the health department is working to organize on-site vaccination clinics at schools.
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