Whooping cough in Ashland considered an outbreak

Editor's note: Story has been updated with information from a release from Jackson County Health & Human Services.

Multiple cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, are prompting health officials to declare an outbreak in the Ashland School District.

"We now have 2 confirmed and 1 suspect case, all with contact to each other, and that would imply an outbreak," Jackson County Medical Director Dr. Jim Shames said in an email.

Children who have been exposed to pertussis but are not vaccinated or undervaccinated must be excluded from school for 21 days per state law, according to a release from the Jackson County Health & Human Services Department.

Children who receive a vaccine against pertussis immediately may return to school. The vaccine may not prevent the child from becoming ill but it can convey protection from future exposures, the release said.

District and health officials so far have not said where the outbreak has occurred. Shames said in his email, "We have coordinated with the school district on getting timely information out to all the parents, and targeted information for the parents of children exposed. It is up to the school district to decide on whether individual school information would be considered protected information or not."

Samuel Bogdanove, Ashland's director of student services, said in an email to the Mail Tribune, "We are focused on increasing awareness globally within our school age population, recognizing that many of our children have contacts throughout the community — not just in our buildings. It would be a faulty assumption to consider health or vaccination needs based solely on the school site."

A joint statement from the district and Jackson County Health Department said employees and students may have had contact with a person with confirmed pertussis during the first two weeks of school.

The bacterial disease can cause serious complications, especially for infants younger than 1 year old, pregnant women, and those who are immune compromised, the statement said. It can be easily transmitted to other people.

Those who have been exposed to pertussis could experience cold-like symptoms in about 10 days, after which time the cough becomes more pronounced and can trigger a gag reflex, vomiting and difficulty breathing. "Sometimes a ‘whoop’ is heard as the person gasps for air," the statement said.

A case of pertussis can be dangerous in a city like Ashland, where vaccination rates range from 42.1 percent at Willow Wind to 82.9 percent at Bellview Elementary School, according to district statistics.

Regardless of vaccination status, children with symptoms must stay home from school until appropriately treated and no longer contagious. It takes five days of antibiotics before the child is no longer contagious and may return back to school, the statement said.

Dtap (diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis) vaccine is available for children younger than 7, and Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis) vaccine is now available for older kids and adults (age 10-64). Tdap can also be given to 7- to 10-year-olds who are not fully immunized against pertussis.

To help prevent the spread of this disease, people should:

  • Cover their mouths and nose when coughing or sneezing

  • Practice frequent hand-washing

  • Avoid sharing cups, drinks, etc.

  • Make sure everyone is up-to-date with their vaccines

Vaccines are available at Jackson County Health and Human Services from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily at 140 S. Holly St., Medford. No appointment is necessary.

Those with questions about whooping cough or possible exposure can call their own physician or the Health Department at 541-774-8045.

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