Scott County health officials are asking students and staff at a Bettendorf Middle School to take antibiotics to try to control an outbreak of whooping cough. There are 30 cases of whooping cough in Scott County and a third of the patients are connected to the middle school.Judy Goddard of the Iowa Department of Public Health says whooping cough — also known as pertussis — is a bacterial disease of the respiratory tract. The main symptom is a cough. In adults, it can be a chronic cough. In young children, the cough can be severe. Infants sometimes vomit after they cough. Goddard says whooping cough is spread through contact with the saliva of someone who has it. Goddard says people who have whooping cough need to cover their mouth when they cough. And she suggests the best defense against getting it is frequent hand-washing. Doctor Louis Katz is medical director at the Scott County Health Department and explains young children are NOT those most at risk, because most toddlers had routine immunizations. But the vaccine’s effect wanes as they get older and now adolescents and adults are turning up with a persistent cough that doesn’t have all the classic symptoms but does turn out to be whooping cough. Doctor Katz says they’re only able to determine it because there are new improved diagnostic tools. The doctor says “classic” whooping cough can kill, and he calls it “really horrible,” though cases we’re seeing today in teens and adults crop up because their old shots are no longer working very well. The older patients who walk around sick and don’t know why make up a “reservoir” of the disease which explains its persistent return on the population. Katz says these cases aren’t that uncommon. The only difference this year, he says, is that one-third of the cases are clustered at a single middle-school so they’re asking people there to take antibiotics to halt the transmission of the illness there. While childhood shots can “wear off” as a person grows older, the medical director does not recommend getting a “booster shot” in adulthood. He says the old vaccines we used “for years and years and years” are really not safe beyond the age of seven because they risk too many side-effects, and newer vaccines are still untested. Dr. Katz says Scott County has “superb” rates of childhood immunization, though parents of sick teens should remember they can be at risk of whooping cough once more, and not put off a visit to the doctor if they get a persistent cough. Fifty-five cases of whooping cough have been diagnosed just across the river in neighboring Rock Island County, Illinois.
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