Whooping cough hits Dallas High

DALLAS — Polk County Public Health officials confirmed a case pertussis or whooping cough was at Dallas High School on Thursday.

The school sent letters to parents Thursday afternoon notifying families about the case of the contagious illness.

“Pertussis is a highly contagious and very serious bacterial infection. Pertussis bacteria live in the nose, mouth and throat and are spread by coughing and sneezing,” the letter read. “Pertussis often starts with mild cough and or cold-like symptoms which develop into a severe cough that can cause gagging and sometimes vomiting.”

Kirk Hillebrand, the communicable disease nurse at Polk County Public Health, said as of Monday afternoon no other cases have been confirmed.

He said the bacterial infection is deceptive, at first.

“It starts off as a cough or the sniffles, then that cough gets worse,” Hillebrand said.

Whooping cough is highly contagious during the onset, about a week.

People can spread the infection during the time before they know they have whooping cough, so it’s important that people exposed to the disease see a doctor if they have any type of respiratory illness, Hillebrand said.

He said people should keep track of any symptoms for three weeks after exposure.

Vaccination — while not 100 percent effective — is the best method of preventing the illness or lessening the severity of it, Hillebrand said.

He added it’s especially important to have young children vaccinated, as well as caretakers and family members.

“It can definitely prevent someone from getting whooping cough,” he said. “It’s about 86 percent effective. Sometimes people get pertussis, but it’s a very attenuated version of the illness. The cough isn’t as bad. There’s definitely some value even though not 100 percent effective.”

Other recommendations include:

• Receive early testing for coughs lasting more than a week.

• Check if immunizations are up to date.

• Cover your cough and wash your hands.

If you have questions about pertussis, contact:

• Polk County Public Health – 503-623-8175.

• Dallas School District nurse – 503-623-3611.

• Your doctor.

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