[KHTS] – A higher-than-average, Santa Clarita Valley-wide prevalence of whooping cough diagnoses, including one this week at Valencia High, has health and school officials reiterating the importance of vaccinations.
Dr. Rochelle Feldman of Prima Pediatrics, who sits on the advisory board for Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health, offered two pieces of advice for those concerned about the easily spread illness.
“If you’re not immunized or you haven’t had the vaccination in the last five years, you should get one,” Feldman said. “Even if it doesn’t prevent you from getting pertussis, it’ll probably stop you from needing to be hospitalized if you do get it.”
The other important piece of advice is: “If you develop the symptoms, get yourself to the doctor and make sure that they know have to test you for it.”
“Whooping cough, a respiratory infection, usually starts off like a cold but after several weeks, symptoms get worse and people begin to have sudden uncontrollable attacks of coughing,” according to the county’s website. “Many people recover from whooping cough without treatment, but when left untreated, it can get serious fast, especially for infants.”
More than a dozen cases have been reported to teens in Santa Clarita Valley high schools, including five at Hart High School and five at Albert Einstein Academy for the Letters, Arts and Sciences.
There was also one case at Golden Valley High and another at Saugus High, as well, before the report at Valencia High.
The whooping cough prevalence is countywide, Feldman said, and certainly being observed in the Santa Clarita Valley.
“It’s the teenagers (who are seeing a higher prevalence),” Feldman said, noting that while medical specialists have seen a higher prevalence of whooping cough since America switched to acellular vaccination, it’s still critical to get vaccinated.
“We have had a couple of instances in our high school, but none at our junior highs,” said Gail Pinsker, spokeswoman for the William S. Hart Union High School District, who said the district encourages parents to have their children immunized.
In the event of a diagnosis, the district must undertake a series of protocols, Pinsker said, which are dictated by Department of Public Health officials.
Whooping cough, which commonly is spread when germs pass from an infected person to others through coughing or sneezing, can be serious, even deadly to a younger infant sibling, county officials said.
A parent with a child in the William S. Hart Union High School District may exempt their child from immunizations, Pinsker said, however, she also offered a caution: If there is an outbreak, and an unvaccinated child is in a class with a student who has contracted whooping cough, the school is mandated by law to take steps, which could include the child’s exclusion from school and campus activities for up to 21 days, in order to fight the spread of the illness.
A letter sent to parents of Valencia High students was shared with KHTS, which notes an unvaccinated child may return after completing five days’ worth of antibiotics with a doctor’s note, if they are in a class with a student diagnosed with whooping cough.
Hart district officials sent out the following information in a letter they also shared with KHTS AM-1220:
“Please note that if a pertussis case develops at your child’s school, the following activities may be used to help stop the spread of illness:
* Exclusion from school of sick (coughing) children or those not sick but unvaccinated and possibly exposed until they have received 5 days of appropriate antibiotics. Your child may be re-admitted to school with a doctor’s note indicating they have completed 5 days of appropriate antibiotics. The antibiotic name and dosage must be listed on the note.
* If you decline to have your child receive antibiotics, exclusion from school will continue until the health department determines that it is safe for him/her to return. Typically, exclusion lasts for 21 days with pertussis.
Alternatively to avoid this exclusion, your child can complete their vaccinations against pertussis as soon as possible before being exposed to a person with pertussis:
* Children younger than 7 years of age who have not received 5 doses of DTaP vaccine should be vaccinated.
* Preteens (11-12 years of age), teens, adults, and anyone 7 years and older who is not fully vaccinated should receive one dose of the Tdap vaccine.”
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health put together a whooping cough informational sheet for parents and those seeking more information.
The following information also is available on the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health website:
1. How do you get whooping cough?
Anyone who is exposed to a coughing person with whooping cough in the infectious stage can get the disease. The pertussis vaccine usually prevents disease in infants and children, but even a vaccinated person can sometimes get whooping cough.
Whooping cough can occur in older children and adults because protection from the vaccine (DTP or DTaP) received during childhood lasts only 5 to 10 years. Only recently has a pertussis vaccine become available for preteens, teens, and adults.
2. How is whooping cough spread?
Whooping cough is spread when germs pass from an infected person to others through coughing or sneezing. Many infants who get whooping cough catch it from their older siblings (brothers or sisters), or from their parent(s) or guardian(s) who might not know that they have the disease.
3. How do you know if you have whooping cough?
Whooping cough begins like a mild cold with a runny nose, sneezing, fever, and cough. After one or two weeks, the coughing spells get worse. Whooping cough can last for weeks and may lead to lung infection, rib fractures, seizures, brain damage, or death, especially in infants under one year of age.
4. How is whooping cough treated?
Treatment is most effective early in the disease. Your physician must prescribe an antibiotic active against pertussis. People who are treated with antibiotics are no longer contagious after the first five days of appropriate treatment.
5. Should infected people be restricted or excluded from work?
* Vaccination is the best way to protect infants, young children, and now teens and adults against whooping cough.
* The vaccination that protects your infant and child from whooping cough (pertussis) is called DTaP. The vaccine that protects preteens, teens, and adults from whooping cough is called Tdap.
* Both vaccinations provide protection against two other diseases: diphtheria and tetanus.
* Parents should vaccinate their infant against whooping cough at 2, 4, and 6 months of age. Additional doses are needed at 15-18 months and 4-6 years of age.
* Complete all of the recommended doses of DTap vaccine to best protect your infant and child.