By CHRISTIN COYNE
Parker County has had 24 cases of pertussis or “whooping cough” reported this year, including one possible case at Springtown High School, authorities say.
Though Springtown ISD’s nursing staff declined to discuss it with the Weatherford Democrat, district officials sent a letter to parents earlier this month with the announcement.
Texas is on track to have the highest number of cases in 50 years and has already had two deaths due to pertussis this year, according to Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Whooping cough is a particular risk to infants.
Children are most likely to be exposed to and most likely to report the illness, Van Deusen said.
The illness, typically beginning with cold-like symptoms progressing to a worsening cough, which can last more than six weeks, can cause life-threatening complications for children who are not fully vaccinated. More than half of infants under 12 months old require hospitalization, according to the TDSHS.
Both pertussis deaths this year were children too young to be vaccinated, Van Deusen said.
Vaccinations can’t be started until a child is 2 months old, so it is important that those who are around newborns get vaccinated, according to TDSHS. Health officials recommend pregnant mothers, as well as fathers, older siblings and any extended family that is going to be around children do so.
Children who are around the 9, 10 or 11 year age range are also more likely to be affected by whooping cough as their immunity wears off from childhood immunizations (recommended at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15–18 months, and around 5–6 years old for pertussis) but they have not yet received the adolescent booster vaccine given around 11 or 12 years old, according Van Deusen.
Texas reported 3,358 cases in 2009 and with 2,218 reported cases as of Sept. 10, the state is on track to pass that with the highest number in 50 years.
Unlike in 2009, during which pertussis hit Central Texas particularly hard, the cases are fairly spread out this year, according to Van Deusen.
The higher numbers of infections this year are not necessarily unexpected as the disease has cyclical upswings as people develop immunity and that immunity wears off, Van Deusen said.
“This may just be a peak year,” Van Deusen said.
Over the last 20 to 30 years, the state has seen an upward trend in pertussis cases, likely a result of better awareness and reporting by parents and doctors, as well as better testing, according to TDSHS.
Last year, six deaths were reported due to whooping cough in Texas.
TDSHS recommends that pertussis vaccinations be kept current, any baby with a coughing illness be seen by their doctor as soon as possible and those suspected of having pertussis stay home until they’ve completed five days of appropriate antibiotic therapy.