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5 Penn-Trafford students treated for whooping cough

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Five students in the Penn-Trafford School District were treated last month for pertussis — which is commonly known as whooping cough — in some of the earliest cases of the contagious disease in Westmoreland County so far this year.

Administrators confirmed four cases at the high school and one case at the joint elementary and middle school in Trafford, Superintendent Thomas Butler said last week.

District officials sent letters from the state Department of Health to parents to alert them that their children might have been exposed to the disease, which is spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

“Pertussis does show cyclical activity, but this activity serves as a great reminder toward the importance of staying up-to-date on vaccinations, as pertussis is a vaccine-preventable disease,” Kait Gillis, deputy press secretary for the health department, said in an email.

Nationwide, pertussis cases in 2012 skyrocketed to almost 42,000, the most since nearly 63,000 cases were reported in 1955, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

A final count of 2012 cases won't be available until mid-year.

Even at the tentative tally, the cases in 2012 represented at least a 48-percent increase from 2010, during the last spike in cases. In Westmoreland County, state officials identified 53 cases last year, Gillis said.

Stacey Martin, a CDC epidemiologist, attributed the recent rise in cases to better reporting by individuals and better diagnostics by health officials. But she also noted a wane in the effectiveness of a vaccine as time passes.

After five years, only 70 percent of vaccine recipients are fully protected from the contagious disease, Martin said. Health officials are recording a lot of cases in children between the ages of 7 and 10, she said.

Infected children who are taking antibiotics typically may return to school after five days, Martin said.

Though the disease can be fatal for some infants, it generally is mainly uncomfortable for older children and adults.

Martin said many countries refer to pertussis as “the 100-day cough.”

“Some adults get broken ribs from the coughing,” she said. “That's how hard you cough.”

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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