AUSTIN (KXAN) — A student of Cedar Park Middle School in the Leander Independent School District was confirmed to have a case of pertussis, or “whooping cough,” according to a letter sent to parents and staff from the Travis County Health and Human Services department.
“Our office has been working with the school’s administration to prevent further spread of this disease,” Interim Medical Director Mary Ann Rodriguez wrote.
Whooping cough is “a very serious respiratory (in the lungs and breathing tubes) infection caused by the pertussis bacteria,” according to a circular from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The most common symptom is a violent, uncontrollable cough and it is most harmful and sometimes deadly for babies. Early symptoms of the disease include a runny or stuffed-up nose, sneezing, mild cough and a pause in breathing for babies. That can develop into a severe cough after about one or two weeks and children may gasp for breath after a coughing fit and turn blue from lack of oxygen.
Health officials suggest parents take the following measures to protect their children and prevent the spread of the disease:
- Consult with your child’s physician “due to this pertussis exposure for medical care other than observation for signs of pertussis.”
- Keep an eye on all members in your household for signs and symptoms of pertussis. You can consult fact sheets from the health department in both English and Spanish.
- Check your child’s immunization records and keep them up to date with the required age-appropriate pertussis vaccine.
If your child or a member of your household is suspected of having whooping cough, you’re asked to notify the Travis County Health and Human Services department as well as the school.
“If your physician suspects you or your child has pertussis, please do not attend school until you/your child has been cleared to return by the physician and health department,” Rodriguez wrote. “If you have any questions, please call our office at 512-972-5555.”
The Centers for Disease Control recommends parents get their children the DTaP vaccine to protect against whooping cough and say it is very safe and effective against preventing the disease.
“Almost everyone who is not immune to whooping cough will get sick if exposed to it,” officials wrote. “Before the whooping cough vaccine, about 8,000 people in the U.S. died each year from the disease. Today, because of the DTaP vaccine, this number has dropped to fewer than 40.”
The disease, most dangerous for babies and young children, caused 159 deaths in the United States from 2004 to 2011 and almost all of the deaths were babies younger than the age of three months.