Davis High School is warning of a possible case of pertussis at the school and urging parents to be on the lookout for symptoms in their children.
The school sent an email to parents Wednesday evening that said there has been “at least one possible case of pertussis (whooping cough) at Davis High School” and listing actions the school is taking to prevent the spread of the disease.
Those actions include excluding all pertussis cases from school until the patient has taken the first five days of antibiotics and recommending antibiotics for high-risk contacts of pertussis patients — such as infants and pregnant women — as well as other household members or close contacts.
Pertussis cases are on the rise throughout California, with the state Department of Public Health documenting 1,711 cases between Jan. 1 and the end of April — three times as many as were seen in all of 2013.
By mid-May, Yolo County had confirmed eight cases of pertussis since the start of the year, double the number seen in all of 2013.
But county Health Officer Dr. Constance Caldwell said she believes pertussis is actually under-diagnosed in school-aged children and teens who may have a prolonged cough but do not appear seriously ill.
“The big risk with school-age kids getting it is if they take it home to their infant siblings,” Caldwell said.
Infants generally don’t receive their first pertussis vaccination — as part of the DTaP diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough immunization — until 2 months of age, although vaccination is recommended as early as 6 weeks old if there is a pertussis outbreak. Five doses are needed before the start of kindergarten.
Infants too young to be fully immunized remain the most vulnerable to severe and fatal cases of pertussis, according to Dr. Ron Chapman, the state’s health officer and director of the California Department of Public Health.
Most of the 77 patients hospitalized for pertussis by the end of April were infants under the age of 3 months, Chapman said, and both of the pertussis deaths documented in California so far this year were infants.
The letter sent to Davis High parents by the school’s nurse, Rhona Youtsey, notes that while the vaccine usually protects against pertussis, “sometimes even immunized children can get pertussis.”
“If your child begins to have a cough in the next three weeks,” Youtsey said, “please call your child’s doctor or clinic right away and let them know about the contents of this letter.”
Pertussis symptoms vary by age, according to Chapman, with the typical case in a child starting with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks. The cough then worsens and children may have rapid coughing spells that end with a whooping sound.
Young infants may not have typical pertussis symptoms and may have no apparent cough, but parents may see episodes in which the infant’s face turns red or purple.
In adults, pertussis may appear to be nothing more than a cough that lasts for several weeks.
Current health guidelines call for all children and adults to be up to date on their immunizations, with booster shots necessary because neither the pertussis disease itself nor the vaccine confer lifelong immunity.
Pregnant women should receive a pertussis vaccine booster during the third trimester of each pregnancy, even if they’ve had it before; all adults should receive a one-time booster, especially if they are in contact with infants or are health care workers in contact with infants or pregnant women; and all children are required by state law to receive a booster upon entering seventh grade.
The DTaP vaccine for young children without insurance or with Medi-Cal, and the booster for teens and adults without insurance or with Medi-Cal, are available at the county Health Department’s regular Monday immunization clinics.
Those clinics take place on the first Monday of each month in West Sacramento at 500-B Jefferson Blvd. and on the second, third and fourth Mondays of each month in Woodland, at 137 N. Cottonwood St.
Additionally, Caldwell has said, most primary care providers, including CommuniCare clinics, Woodland Healthcare, Sutter Davis and UC Davis, can provide pertussis vaccinations and boosters.
Call the county Health Department at 530-666-8562 for additional information.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy