County official: Whooping cough now ‘widespread’ |

County official: Whooping cough now ‘widespread’

A whooping cough outbreak in Nevada County that initially was reported Feb. 8 has grown from just two reported cases to a dozen.

On Friday, the county announced the Public Health Department has notified all parents, guardians and school staff of a pertussis (commonly known as whooping cough) outbreak that has involved 11 school-age children and one preschool child.

Two cases of the disease were reported at Yuba River Charter Feb. 8, with another case reported Feb. 22.

During that time, school administrators said any student exhibiting symptoms would be sent home until cleared by a doctor.

The schools with infected students now include Seven Hills, Union Hill, Nevada City School of the Arts, Yuba River Charter, Nevada Union, Bitney Springs Charter and Magnolia schools.

“This is absolutely likely to grow,” said Tex Ritter, interim director of Public Health. “We don’t know how many unreported cases there are, and there’s certainly probably a number of adults that have been affected and have the bouts of cough where people whoop because they are out of breath. They used to call it the ‘100-day cough’ because it lasts so long.”

The disease can be fatal to small children, and pertussis kills about 1 percent of infected infants, Ritter said.

The disease incubates for seven to 10 days without any symptoms and is contagious for three weeks.

“We recommend a vaccination, and any infants should be kept away from anybody with a cough,” Ritter said.

Carriers of the dangerous and highly contagious disease have a prolonged, persistent cough that lasts several weeks, he added.

Symptoms of the disease can often be mistaken for a common cold or flu, which makes the disease difficult to detect.

“It masks itself well; however, a prolonged persistent cough lasting over two weeks in an adult should be viewed as pertussis,” Ritter said.

“It’s a bacteria, so how it’s actually diagnosed is through a culture sample that tests positive for Bordatella pertussis.”

The vaccine for the disease has only been available since 2005, Ritter said, which accounts for the low number of vaccinated adults.

Antibiotics can decrease the severity and, likely, the spread of the disease, and vaccinations are strongly advised.

“It’s very dangerous,” Ritter said. “Unvaccinated adults and children serve as a reservoir for pertussis, and that’s why we get these outbreaks.”

According to a county memo, the vaccine usually protects against whooping cough but is not 100 percent effective and immunity from the vaccine wanes over time.

“Young babies with whooping cough may not have a cough but may have trouble breathing and gag, gasp, turn color or vomit. There is usually no fever with whooping cough,” the memo stated.

The DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine recommended for pre-adolescents) is 95 percent effective in preventing all three diseases and is 59 to 89 percent effective in preventing pertussis, according to the memo.

“Vaccines, including pertussis-containing vaccines, have been incorrectly blamed for many things in the past.

“There is no evidence to support a casual role for DTaP vaccines as a cause of asthma, autism, Type 1 diabetes, brain damage or sudden infant death syndrome,” the memo stated.

More information on whooping cough is available on the California Department of Public Health website at and on the Nevada County website at

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email or call 530-477-4230.

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