Whooping cough epidemic spreads | TheUnion.com

Whooping cough epidemic spreads

The persistent, potentially deadly pertussis bacteria continues to worry state and local health officials.

Known better as whooping cough, state health officials say more than 3,000 cases of the illness have been confirmed through mid-August in California, a seven-fold increase from the number of cases reported in the same period last year.

Five cases have been confirmed in Nevada County, said Cindy Watson, the communicable disease coordinator for the county’s health department.

“There are many more probable cases in the county” in people who do not get diagnosed with the disease, Watson said.

This year, seven infants statewide have died from whooping cough, which manifests itself as an uncontrollable cough.

While sometimes fatal in infants, adults generally suffer a sustained cough lasting for weeks.

With school starting, some officials are worried about the virus spreading quickly among unvaccinated children.

Children who aren’t vaccinated may be required to stay home under the authority of county health departments in the event of an outbreak, said Ken August, state department of public health spokesman.

There aren’t enough cases in Nevada County to warrant such an action from the county’s health department yet, Watson said.

In the past, individual schools have excluded unvaccinated students from attending class during an outbreak.

In December 2006, four students at Nevada City’s Yuba River Charter School contracted whooping cough. Principal Caleb Buckley ordered all of the school’s nonimmunized students home until the outbreak passed.

“Most parents understood,” Buckley said. “This year we’re sending a notice home … letting them know that if their kids aren’t immunized, they could be excluded from school if there is an outbreak.”

Officials at the health department are considering an immunization clinic for students next week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Kyle Magin, e-mail kmagin@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4239.

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