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11:57 PM Tue, July 17th

Whooping cough spreads to PV, county<BR>Health Department confirms 46 cases countywide

PRESCOTT VALLEY – The Prescott pertussis outbreak has spread to Prescott Valley.

The Humboldt Unified School District and the Yavapai County Health Department have identified several positive cases of pertussis, also called whooping cough, at Mountain View Elementary School.

According to Principal Jeannine Young, the Health Department has confirmed one positive case of pertussis in her school so far. However, she has referred about a dozen students to the Health Department for testing since a school nurse identified the first case at the beginning of October, she said.

"We have sent many (students) to the Health Department for testing because of coughing," she said. "We are sending letters to parents. One of the letters is from the Health Department explaining all of the symptoms and signs of pertussis. And the other is a letter explaining what they need to do and what we will do as a school."

Yavapai County Health Department Director Marcia Jacobson said the department has screened more than 40 people from the Prescott Valley area.

"We have four confirmed cases and 34 possible cases," she said, adding that these cases are not only from Mountain View Elementary. "We are also screening people who are not connected with the school."

The pertussis outbreak started at Granite Mountain Middle School in Prescott in early September. Authorities have confirmed a few pertussis cases at Prescott High School as well. Jacobson said that the department has screened more than 200 people countywide.

"We've considered over 200 people to be possible cases," she said. "Forty-six of them have been confirmed (to have pertussis) at this point county-wide." Jacobson said cases fit in four categories.

"They are suspect, possible, probable and confirmed," she said. "At any point in any day people move from one category to the next as we work on the case and follow them through the course of the illness. So confirmed can mean laboratory confirmed, but that is not the only way that we confirm the cases."

A laboratory-confirmed case of pertussis requires taking a sample from the back of the nose of the potentially ill person, she said.

"We do not wait for a confirmation to recommend treatment," she said. "If a person appears to have been exposed or has symptoms, we recommend that they have an antibiotic treatment at that point. It can take two weeks to get lab results to come back and we can't wait that long."

Students with pertussis have to take antibiotics for five full days before they can return to school, she said.

"After the five days they are not considered contagious any longer," she said. "They have to continue to take antibiotics for full 14 days for it to be effective."

Without antibiotic treatment, a person is contagious for 21 days, she added.

Jacobson said that such an outbreak occurs every three to four years.

"We have not seen an outbreak of this magnitude in Yavapai County in more than 10 years," she said.

To control the current outbreak at the three school sites, the Health Department has set some measures, Jacobson said.

"Any child with the cough is excluded from school," she said. "They have to come to the Health Department to be screened and tested. And, if appropriate, they are recommended to be put on antibiotics and have to be on those for five days before they return to school."

According to information from the Yavapai County Health Department, pertussis is a contagious disease caused by bacteria. The germs that cause pertussis live in the nose, mouth and throat and when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, the germs go into the air. The first symptoms usually appear about 7-to-10 days after a person has been exposed.

Pertussis symptoms have two stages. The first stage begins with cold-like symptoms that include a runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and cough, which eventually worsens. The second stage manifests with severe coughing spells and a whooping noise in young children when they inhale.

During those coughing spells, the person may vomit or become blue in the face from a lack of air.

Between coughing spells, though, person may appear to be well. The coughing stage may last six weeks or longer. Pertussis is most common among infants less than a year old but anyone else can get it.

Although pertussis doesn't cause serious illness in school-age children or adults, it can be very dangerous for infants. It can cause breathing problems, pneumonia, and swelling of the brain, which can lead to seizures and brain damage, Jacobson said. Sometimes, it can cause death in infants, she said.

"There have been five infant deaths in Arizona since 1998 from pertussis," she said. "Any number is high when it is a preventable disease."

"The main thing that we are concerned about is that children under the age of 1 year are not exposed," she said. "So we really ask families with young children to be aware of their surroundings and to avoid any kind of exposure to people with the cough.

If you suspect that you, your child, or a family member may have pertussis, please contact the Yavapai County Health Department at 771-3122.

Contact Mirsada Buric-Adam at mburicadam@prescottaz.com.