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Department of Education offers health guidance

Nov. 15, 2012 @ 12:26 AM

CHARLESTON -- Schools and parents throughout West Virginia can take steps now to help stop the spread of a vaccine preventable disease called pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

Pertussis is a very contagious disease caused by bacteria. It can last for 10 weeks or more and is life-threatening in infants. The disease, which can be treated with antibiotics, is usually spread by contact with an infected person's nose or throat secretions. This can happen by touching an infected person's nose or throat drainage, or it can be spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

The United States has seen resurgence of whooping cough with 48 states and Washington, D.C., reporting increases in the disease since last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Provisional counts from the CDC show that nearly 29,000 cases of pertussis were reported through Sept. 20, 2012. Of these cases, 14 pertussis-related deaths have been reported. The majority of deaths continue to occur among infants younger than 3 months of age. The incidence rate of pertussis among infants exceeds that of all other age groups. The second highest rates of disease are observed among children 7 through 10 years old. Rates are also increased in adolescents 13 and 14 years of age.

Health officials recommend pertussis immunization as the first line of defense for infants, children, preteens, teens and adults. The DTaP shot for children and Tdap booster for teens and adults protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Since infants cannot be vaccinated until 2 months of age, getting vaccinated with Tdap at least two weeks before coming into close contact with an infant is recommended for families with infants and caregivers.

The West Virginia Board of Education policy requires students to be vaccinated against pertussis with the DTaP vaccine before entering school. Seventh graders must receive a Tdap vaccine booster. High school seniors also must show proof of a single dose of Tdap.

"Immunizations are a vital part of public health and help make sure our students are free from preventable communicable diseases," said state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple. "We must take every step we can to keep our children as healthy as possible so that they are in school and learning."

In addition to immunizations, precautionary steps should be taken, including

staying home when sick and remaining there until 24 hours after any fever is gone;

separating ill students and staff;

washing hands and observing appropriate cough/sneeze etiquette;

routine cleaning;

early treatment of at-risk students and staff.

Those with the disease may have a slight fever, sneezing, runny nose, dry cough, loss of appetite, and irritability during the first stages. About one to two weeks later, during the second stage, the cough becomes more intense. There may be short, intense coughing spells followed by a long gasp for air (this is when the "whoop" is heard). The face may turn blue, the nose may bleed, and vomiting may occur following a coughing spell. During the final stage, the cough is less intense and less frequent and appetite begins to increase. Eventually, maybe many weeks later, the cough stops.

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