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Kids coming down with whooping cough

Feb. 22, 2012

Outbreaks of whooping cough have made children sick in Wauwatosa during the past six weeks, so the Wauwatosa Health Department is reminding people to get vaccinated to prevent the further spread of the disease.

The initial cases involved people who live outside of Wauwatosa but are enrolled in local schools and day care facilities, Nursing Supervisor Lori Nielsen said. They passed the disease onto children who live within the city.

"They're very active at that age - in playgroups, sports, extracurricular activities," she said. "Those seem to be the vehicles where it's spreading."

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease spread through the air when infected people cough. It can be dangerous, even fatal, for babies, the elderly and people with serious medical conditions. Infants are particularly vulnerable because they can't be vaccinated until they are 2 months old.

For families with children younger than 2 months, Nielsen recommends "cocooning." Everyone who regularly comes in contact with that baby should be vaccinated, providing a shield of protection.

Vaccination is the best way to prevent contracting pertussis. However, the children who have been coming down with the disease have received their shots.

That leaves Nielsen questioning the potency of a booster vaccine that has been given since 2005 to people 10 and older. Research is needed to determine if people should be vaccinated more frequently, she said. The Wauwatosa Health Department recommends people who have had a tetanus shot without the pertussis component get vaccinated, as well as people who haven't had a pertussis vaccine in the past five to 10 years.

Parents of children who have been exposed to pertussis at school or a day care should receive a letter or call from a public health nurse alerting them to the situation. If their child starts showing cold symptoms that include a cough, they should stay home and call a health care provider and ask specifically for a pertussis test.

Some health care providers have misdiagnosed the disease as bronchitis or the flu, Nielsen said. People also need to stay at home until the test results come back, which could take a few days.

One of the major reasons pertussis spreads is because infected people don't stay home while they're contagious. Typical treatment is a five-day regimen of antibiotics, and the patient needs to stay home until the drugs are finished, she said.

AT A GLANCE

WHAT: Pertussis vaccines can be given during upcoming immunization clinics.

WHERE: Wauwatosa Health Department, first floor of City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.

WHEN: 2 to 4 p.m. Feb. 23 or 4 to 6 p.m. March 6

COST: $30 for adult residents, free for children

INFORMATION: Call (414) 479-8939.

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