Another whooping cough case confirmed at a Lexington high school, health department says

The second confirmed case of pertussis, or whooping cough, in less than a month has occurred at Lexington’s Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Lexington-Fayette County Health Department officials said Monday.

This is the ninth confirmed case in Lexington in 2019 and the third for Fayette County Public Schools for the 2019-20 school year.

A case was reported earlier this month at Lexington’s Frederick Douglass High School. Dunbar had another case reported on September 30.

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by coughing and sneezing. It affects people of all ages but can be most serious in infants and those with chronic diseases.

Health department officials are working with Fayette County Public Schools to make parents aware of the threat of pertussis.

The health department recommends preventive antibiotics for high-risk students who were exposed to pertussis. This includes students with a chronic illness or weakened immune system and those who live with a family member with a chronic illness or weakened immune system, an infant or a pregnant woman.

Any school-age children with symptoms of pertussis should stay home from school and visit their health care provider, even if they have previously been vaccinated. Students with probable or confirmed pertussis should remain out of school until they finish their antibiotics. For more information about pertussis, call the health department at 859-288-2437.

The early symptoms are similar to a common cold: runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever and coughing.

After one to two weeks, the cough often gets worse, changing from a dry, hacking cough to uncontrollable, sometimes violent, coughing. During a coughing episode, it might be temporarily impossible to take a breath because of the repetition of the coughs.

When finally able to breathe, the person might take a sudden gasp of air, which can cause a “whooping” sound. Vomiting and exhaustion can often follow a coughing spell, a health department news release said.

The vaccine against pertussis is required for school-age kids. One dose of the booster vaccine, called Tdap, is recommended for ages 11 and above. Teenagers and adults who have never received the Tdap vaccine should check with their primary care provider or call the health department at 859-288-2483. Although the vaccine is effective, immunity tends to decrease over time, making the booster important for older children and adults, health department officials said.