Whooping cough outbreak in Bucks County

February 1, 2008 4:32:46 PM PST
Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory disease also known as Pertussis.

With several confirmed cases in each school, Bucks County health officials are recommending third graders at Groveland Elementary in Plumstead and all students and faculty at Buckingham Friends take preventive antibiotics.

"The concern is not spreading the disease from one person to another, trying to stop it in its tracks," said Barbara Schellhorn of the Bucks County Health Department.

Whooping cough is spread through the air by sneezing, coughing or even talking.

"Some people say it sounds like a seal. Loud," said Buckingham Friends student Jacqueline Fitzgerald.

The vaccine we get when we're young apparently weakens over the years, which is why it may not be always obvious in those who have been inoculated.

"The whoop may not be as evident because they have some immunity but not full immunity," said Maryanne Canales, district nursing coordinator.

It's a real threat to babies, who don't start whooping cough vaccines until two months and have no protection. That's why one Groveland mom was heading to get antibiotics for her son, Wes.

"I don't want to take a chance. I have a newborn baby at home, so I'm doing it for preventive reasons," said Allison Hill.

"If they do have a cough they need to stay home for five days. If they are symptomatic also see the physician," said Groveland Elementary School principal Dave Heineman.

It's unusual to urge an entire school to go on antibiotics, but with just 167 students and lots of interaction among the grades, a school like Buckingham Friends can be a petrie dish for pertussis.

"It can circulate around and since there's so much interaction we want to make sure we close it down. It is a dangerous disease," said Scott Baytosh, head of the school.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Pertussis is highly contagious.

Up to 90-percent of household contacts who are exposed to a person with the illness will get it.

Most kids are vaccinated, but booster shots can be recommended even for kids 10 and over.