Whooping Cough Fact Sheet
Two confirmed school cases of whooping cough
Parents were urged to keep their children off school if they showed signs of whooping cough after two confirmed cases of the highly contagious illness.
Staff at Somersfield Academy announced a string of precautionary measures yesterday in efforts to limit the spread of the respiratory disease.
An e-mail to parents on Saturday revealed that the Department of Health told the Devonshire school that two cases of pertussis — whooping cough — were confirmed in a single primary year group.
It added: “The identified students and families have been quarantined and the students have each been given a course of antibiotics.”
A letter from Jennifer Wilson, a nurse epidemiologist in the epidemiology and surveillance unit, which comes under the office of the Chief Medical Officer, was attached.
She told parents: “Pertussis is preventable with vaccination and the appropriate public health response to a case is to determine the immunisation status of the contacts and to refer them for care and vaccination if needed.
“Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory illness and usually spreads by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others. Indirect spread through the air or contaminated objects may rarely occur.
“Exposure to the pertussis bacteria can be very dangerous and lead to death in young children or people with a weakened immune system.”
Ms Wilson explained that the disease usually started with “cold-like symptoms and a mild cough or fever”.
She said that after a week or two, severe coughing could begin. Ms Wilson added: “Pertussis can become a series of coughing fits, following by a high-pitched ‘whoop’ that continues for weeks.”
The nurse explained that the disease was “generally treated with antibiotics and early treatment is very important to help prevent spreading the disease to close contacts”.
She said the best preventive measure was vaccination, which meant “the infection is usually less severe, if it occurs at all”.
Parents were asked to exclude their child from school and to contact their doctor if they noticed that the child had symptoms of whooping cough.
They were advised to tell the physician about the school’s notification, and to have their child immunised if they were not already vaccinated.
Carlos Symonds, Somersfield’s head of school, sent an update e-mail yesterday when he outlined a number of actions being taken “out of an abundance of caution”.
He said: “All assemblies of students, including the International Day Celebration and group practices, have been postponed until after the midterm holiday.”
Mr Symonds wrote: “In co-operation with, and under the guidance of, the Department of Health, we will continue to monitor the health of all students and staff and take the respective precautions to avoid the inadvertent spread of the infection.
“Please note that the incubation period for pertussis is seven to ten days.
“During the first stage of the disease, the symptoms are mild and may go unnoticed or be confused with the common cold or influenza.
“As such, any student or staff member who displays a cold or flu-like symptoms this week will be respectfully ‘advised’ to see their physician.”
He said that vaccination records of pupils were under review and that parents were “strongly recommended to ensure that their child’s immunisations” were up to date.
Mr Symonds added: “This is especially critical if they plan to travel, as a resurgence of whooping cough has been observed worldwide, despite broad vaccination coverage.”
He thanked parents for their “critical co-operation, patience and understanding”.
A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said: “The Ministry of Health can confirm that the ESU is aware of cases of pertussis at a single school and is working with the school administration, parents and private physicians to put necessary infection control and prevention measures in place.
“Involved parties have been contacted.
“As always, we take this opportunity to remind the public to assure all childhood and adult immunisations are up to date as pertussis is a vaccine preventable disease.”
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