FAYETTE CO., Pa. – After a first grader was diagnosed with whooping cough in a Fayette County school district, officials are warning parents in the area to take precautions.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health notified the Frazier School District of the student’s diagnosis, which prompted the district to send parents a letter on Friday.
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According to the letter from Superintendent William R. Henderson, many children in the district “may have been” exposed to a person who has whooping cough – also known as pertussis.
The letter did not specify which school the diagnosed child attends, nor did it say how many children potentially were in contact with that student.
Henderson said in the letter that whooping cough is a highly contagious disease that is spread through the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs. It begins with cold symptoms and a cough which becomes much worse over a week or two.
The disease can be very severe and, although deaths are rare, they do occur, especially in infants.
The health department recommends the following:
- If your child is coughing, promptly contact your child’s doctor. Explain to the doctor your child has been exposed to a case of pertussis and needs to be evaluated. Your child’s doctor may obtain a nasopharyngeal culture to test for pertussis. In addition, if the doctor suspects pertussis, an antibiotic will be given to your child to help lower the chance of spreading the disease to others. Your child will be able to return to school after completing the first 5 days of the medication. It is very important that upon returning to school your child continue(s) taking his or her medication until completed.
- Even if your child is not coughing, you may need to contact your child’s doctor and explain that he or she has been exposed to a case of pertussis, the doctor should give your child an antibiotic to lower his or her chance of becoming ill ifs/he fits one of the following categories:
- Infants and women in their third trimester of pregnancy
- All persons with pre-existing health conditions that may be exacerbated by pertussis (e.g., immunocompromised, severe asthma)
- Contacts who themselves have close contact with infants, pregnant women, or individuals with pre-existing health conditions that may be exacerbated by pertussis
- All contacts in high risk settings that include infants or women in the third trimester of pregnancy.
- Your child can attend school while taking this medication.
- If your child is diagnosed with pertussis, all household members and other close contacts should also be treated with antibiotics regardless of their age or vaccination status.
- Making sure that children receive all their shots on time is the best way to control pertussis in the future. In children, diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis vaccine (DTaP) is only given to those under age 7 years of age. Children should receive one dose of DTaP vaccine at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and between 15-18 months of age. In addition, one dose is needed before starting school (on or after the 4′” birthday), Check with your pediatrician to see if your child is eligible for another dose of DTaP in the accelerated schedule. If you are not sure your child is properly immunized, promptly contact his or her doctor.
- The combination tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap) is recommended for children ages 7 through 10 (if not fully vaccinated) and adolescents and adults as a one-time dose. It is also recommended during EACH pregnancy to protect the newborn infant.
- Anyone eligible for Tdap may receive it regardless of interval since the most recent tetanus containing vaccine.
If you or your doctor have a question about pertussis, please call the Pennsylvania Department of Health at 1-877-PA-HEALTH.
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