A school with alarmingly low vaccination rates was the scene of a pertussis (also known as whooping cough) outbreak.
There have been two confirmed cases of pertussis in a sixth-grade classroom at Yuba River Charter School, according to the weekly memo issued by Nevada County Executive Officer Rick Haffey.
The Nevada County Public Health Department is currently investigating this outbreak.
“I wouldn’t say that low vaccination rates are responsible for the outbreak, but it could be responsible for the spread of the disease,” said Tex Ritter, interim director of public health. “The disease is highly infectious. If an unvaccinated person is in close proximity to someone with the disease, that person has an 80 percent chance of contracting it.”
Because of the high contagiousness of Pertussis, any sixth-grade Yuba River Charter student exhibiting potential early symptoms of the disease, which include cold-like symptoms, are to be sent home until cleared by a doctor or given antibiotics, said Caleb Buckley, director of Yuba River Charter.
“In those cases, the kids can go on five days of antibiotics and return to school,” Buckley said. “One student is already back and another is still on antibiotics.”
The highly contagious disease is potentially dangerous to the entire community but particularly to infants and babies. A pertussis cough can last weeks to months. Currently, there is a vaccine for the prevention of pertussis; however, vaccination rates at Yuba River Charter are quite low, thus increasing the potential for further spread of the disease.
Yuba River Charter School’s kindergarten vaccination rate is about 19 percent for the most recent school year, according to Holly Whittaker, epidemiologist at Nevada County Public Health.
Nevada County’s vaccination rate, which is the lowest in California, is about 72 percent, and the state vaccination rate is 91 percent. California law currently requires children to receive five doses of the vaccine, which prevents whooping cough by kindergarten unless a parent has exercised a personal belief exemption.
The Nevada County Public Health Officer issued an order to the Yuba River Charter School to exclude any children displaying symptoms of illness school attendance until they have been evaluated by a qualified health care provider.
The order affects only students in the single affected classroom. Failure to comply with the order is a misdemeanor, Ritter said.
Whopping cough is treated with a short course of antibiotics, Ritter said. Once ill, students are treated for five days with antibiotics, and they can return to school, or if a qualified health care provider determines that they do not have pertussis, they can return to the classroom.
If a student with confirmed or suspected pertussis is not undergoing a treatment regimen, he will be excluded until three weeks after cough onset. Contagion generally lasts up to approximately four weeks from the onset of the first symptoms.
If the outbreak continues to spread, there could be further student restrictions, the memo states. The Public Health Department conducted a vaccination clinic at the school Friday and is working with local doctors and hospitals to ensure the outbreak is monitored, treated and controlled.
“I think since people know there are cases in the community, you just have to be more cautious if your child has any symptoms because it can look like a simple cough or cold before it develops, so you probably want to get checked out to make sure,” Buckley said.
Staff Writer Jennifer Terman contributed to this report. Contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda at firstname.lastname@example.org at 530-477-4239.