Rice Elementary student has whooping cough

A student at Rice Elementary School in Wellington has been diagnosed with pertussis (also known as whooping cough), according to a letter sent to parents on Wednesday. The student, who has not been identified by name, will remain out of school until a five-day course of antibiotic treatment has been completed.

The number of cases of pertussis is at epidemic proportions in Colorado, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment. As of Sept. 29, 976 cases have been reported statewide this year compared to a 2007-2011 average of 158 cases for the same time period. In Larimer County, 46 cases have been reported so far this year, compared with six in all of 2011.

Reported cases of pertussis tend to peak every three to five years, according to the national Centers for Disease Control. Colorado’s last outbreak occurred in 2005, when more than 1,300 cases were reported statewide.

Pertussis is a bacterial illness that begins with cold-like symptoms and progresses to a severe cough. Some coughing spells can be so severe they may cause vomiting, breathlessness or a change in facial color, with a whooping sound that follows the coughing, especially in infants. The illness can last from six to ten weeks and is spread through sneezing and coughing.

It usually takes about 7 to 10 days for symptoms to appear after exposure to pertussis, but could appear anywhere from 4 to 21 days after exposure. The student at Rice may have been able to pass the infection to other individuals before the diagnosis was made.

If you, your child or other individuals you provide care for have a respiratory infection with a cough now or develops pertussis-like symptoms, do not expose others to the cough. Let your health care provider know that there may have been an exposure to pertussis so that appropriate testing and treatment can be provided, especially if you have children under the age of 1 living or being cared for in your household.

Your health care provider can help you determine if the immunizations (DTaP/Tdap) of all members of your household are up to date. Children are routinely immunized against pertussis with a series of three shots as infants, a booster dose at 15 to 18 months, and before school entry at four to six years of age. A Tdap vaccine for adolescents and adults is now available, and provides protection against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. It is highly recommended for those who have close contact with infants.

Vaccine is available from most private physicians or the Larimer County Health Department. The health department holds vaccination clinics at the Fort Collins office at 1525 Blue Spruce on Mondays 9 a.m.-noon and 1 to 3:30 p.m.; Tuesdays 3-6 pm; and Fridays 9 a.m.-noon. No appointments necessary.

For more information, contact the Larimer County Health Department at 970-498-6700, or see the department’s website.

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