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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of October 16 - 22, 2002


Whooping cough cases appear in Blaine County

Express Staff Writer

Five people in Blaine County, including two students, have been diagnosed with whooping cough since Sept. 20.

However, Cheryle Becker, epidemiologist with South Central District Health, said the current cases are probably the result of an increased visibility of the disease rather than an epidemic.

Becker said one of the current victims, a man in Hailey, has a serious case, but not to the extent that he has required hospitalization.

Medically known as pertussis, the bacteria-caused disease gets its common name from the rapid inhalation of air that occurs between paroxysms of coughing experienced by its sufferers. It is most serious among young children. However, its most common means of infection is through adults, whose relatively mild symptoms tend to mask the presence of the disease. Becker said whooping cough probably maintains a permanent presence in every community.

"Until it gets to a person who has the classic set of symptoms, itís not recognized," she said.

The currently diagnosed victims are in two families, and range in age from 10 to 50 years. Two of them attend Wood River Valley schools. Becker said the two students were out of school long enough for a regimen of antibiotics to render them non-infectious.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are about 4,400 cases of pertussis diagnosed in the United States annually. In rare cases the disease is fatal, most commonly as the result of a secondary infection of bacterial pneumonia. Infants are most at risk of dying from pertussis itself or of contracting a secondary infection.

"Sometimes babies will just quit breathing," Becker said. "If you had once seen a baby in the hospital with pertussis, you would not soon forget it."

Initial symptoms of the disease are those of a cold, followed in one to two weeks by a cough of gradually increasing severity. The "paroxsysmal" stage of coughing typically lasts for two to three weeks, then gradually tapers off. Coughing can occur for up to two months.

Antibiotics are generally given to people in the same household with a carrier of the disease, but cannot eliminate symptoms in a person already infected. They do, however, kill the bacteria within about five days and thereby help prevent the disease from spreading.

Pertussis can be prevented by a series of four vaccinations that typically begins at four months of age. However, the protection gradually wears off, and many teens and adults are susceptible to the disease. Becker said that due to lack of testing, the vaccine is not given to anyone over 7 years old. She said tests are under way for an adult vaccine.

The current spate of local whooping cough cases, Becker contended, should act as a reminder to parents to get unprotected children vaccinated.



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