Nearly two dozen lab-confirmed cases of whooping cough have been reported in the past month among children 7 and younger in Montgomery County, county health department officials announced.
Whooping cough, also called pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease that spreads through airborne particles, such as those from a cough or sneeze. Early symptoms, which can last one to two weeks, include sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever and a mild, occasional cough.
Health department officials recommend that adults get immunized against whooping cough to avoid spreading the disease to children. The disease is most harmful to infants and can cause death, although fatalities are rare.
Jennifer Gulley, deputy public health director for Montgomery County, said there has been an increase in cases since 2001.
Children receive DTaP vaccinations, which protect then against tetanus, whooping cough and diphtheria, at 2, 4 and 6 months, 15 to 18 months and 4 to 6 years. Middle school students also are given vaccines. Adults should receive the Tdap booster, which protects them against the same three diseases, because immunity wanes over time.
Adults and adolescents who have not been vaccinated can spread the disease without realizing it.
"That's how we're going to control this outbreak," Gulley said. "By getting community immunity."
Although there are whooping cough cases each year, the 21 confirmed cases in Montgomery County is an unusually high number and the most the county has seen in recent years, she said.
There are 3 million cases of whooping cough reported in the United States each year. Montgomery County Health Department officials said other Kentucky counties also have had reported cases this year.
The Montgomery County Early Learning Center and Camargo and Mount Sterling elementary schools each had one confirmed case of whooping cough. Parents are being instructed to call their primary care providers if necessary for treatment.
Donna McGuire, a spokeswoman for the school district, said the superintendent recently asked bus drivers to use sanitizing spray more often to clean school buses in light of the outbreak.
McGuire said this would be "another layer of protection" alongside other measures to prevent the spread of germs, especially after the spread of H1N1 last year. Hand sanitizer is available throughout buildings.
"It's not new to us to have to try to be preventative," McGuire said. "That's been a habit anyway."
Only people who were within 3 feet of a sick person for at least an hour are considered contacts who might need antibiotic treatment, health officials said.
People diagnosed with whooping cough should stay home from work or school during the first five days while taking antibiotics prescribed by a physician. After the five days, coughing might continue for up to 10 weeks but the disease is no longer contagious, health department officials said.
Whooping cough symptoms might include vomiting and severe coughing if left untreated. The severe coughing can cause cracked ribs and hernias.
The Montgomery County Health Department will hold a Tdap clinic from 1 to 8 p.m. Tuesday. The Tdap booster also is available by appointment at the health department. The vaccine is covered by most insurance. The cost is $4 for people without insurance.