Pertussis ("Whooping Cough") Suspected at Jefferson School

For the second time this week, a potentially serious disease is suspected at a SOMSD school.

Susan Grierson, Principal of Jefferson Elementary School, sent home a letter to parents and guardians on Thursday warning of a suspected case of whooping cough at the school.

It is the second time in a week that a possible case of the disease -- technically called "pertussis" but more commonly known as whooping cough -- has been identified in the South Orange-Maplewood School District. South Orange Middle School principal Joseph Uglialoro sent home an identical letter on Wednesday.

"I've never know anyone who's had it, I only know (of) it from the vaccine the kids get," said Julie Pauly, parent of an 5th-grader at Jefferson. "It strikes me as unusual," she said. "I'm not alarmed but I thought this was eliminated by children's vaccines."

According to the letter, even if a child's shots are up-to-date, it is still possible to get pertussis. The disease is highly contagious and easily spread, and it is recommended that antibiotics be given to anyone who has been in contact with someone with pertussis.

The Centers for Disease Control website states that the DTaP (Diptheria/Tetanus/Pertussis) vaccine should be given to children before age 7 in five doses: at 2, 4, 6, 15-18 months and 4-6 years. Symptoms of pertussis include severe cough, runny nose and apnea in infants. Severe complications include pneumonia and death.

A booster, Tdap, is recommended for people ages 11 through 64, according to the CDC. It is commonly given to children at at ages 11 or 12.

"In the last years, pertussis has made a resurgence in the community, which indicates that the immunity wanes, and now all children get a DTap booster when they enter the 6th grade (it is NJ law)," said  Marnie Doubek, a family doctor at Summit Springfield Family Practice. "It is also recommended that all adults get a one time DTap booster.  It is especially important that parents of newborns get the booster to protect their unvaccinated baby!" 

Here is the complete text of the letter from Jefferson School: 

We have had 1 case of suspected pertussis (whooping cough) identified in our school. Pertussis is a highly contagious disease that is spread through the air by a cough or a sneeze. Pertussis begins with cold symptoms and a cough, which become much worse over 1-2 weeks. Symptoms usually include a long series of coughing fits followed by a whooping noise. However, older children, adults and very young infants may not develop the whoop. There is generally only a slight fever. People with pertussis may have a series of severe coughing fits followed immediately by vomiting, turning blue, or difficulty catching breath. The cough is often worse at night, and cough medicines usually do not help alleviate the cough.

If your child has been around someone with pertussis, he/she might become sick with the disease. This is especially true if your child is not up-to-date with his/her pertussis vaccine shots. Even if your child’s shots are up- to-date, he/she might still get pertussis. If your child has been in contact with someone with pertussis, antibiotics prescribed by your doctor may prevent him/her from becoming ill. If your child is already sick, giving antibiotics early can help your child get well faster and lower the chances of spreading the disease to others.

The New Jersey Department of Health recommends the following:

  1. Infants under one year old, especially those under six months, are most likely to have severe symptoms if they develop pertussis. When possible, young infants should be kept away from people with a cough.

    Infants with any coughing illness should be seen promptly by their doctor.

  2. Pertussis vaccine has until recently, been given only to children under 7 years old. However, an adolescent and adult pertussis booster vaccine is now available for persons 10 years of age and older. Adacel is approved for persons 11 through 64 years of age and Boostrix is approved for persons 10 years of age and older. If you have children who have not been completely immunized against pertussis (particularly infants under one year) we recommend you now talk to your child’s doctor about the benefits of vaccination.

  3. If your child comes down with cold symptoms that include a cough, talk to your child’s doctor immediately. Tell the doctor that pertussis has been identified at your child’s school.

  4. It is generally recommended that those persons having close contact with a pertussis case receive antibiotics from their doctor to help prevent them from getting pertussis.

  5. Do not send your child to school if he/she has any signs or symptoms of pertussis.

We continue to monitor the situation at school and if additional actions to control the spread of pertussis among pupils become necessary, we will again notify parents. If you have general concerns or questions about pertussis, contact your local health department. If you have specific concerns or questions about your child’s health, contact your health care provider.



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