Whooping cough seen on rise in Umatilla County

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Umatilla County Public Health Department today confirmed another case of pertussis, or “whooping cough”.

A school age child living in the east end of the county was diagnosed at the beginning of the month and attended a drop-in summer reading program at Pendleton public library prior to diagnosis.

The child was immunized against pertussis, according to officials.

They are advising that anyone that attended this program during the month of July may have been exposed to the illness. Parents are encouraged to contact their local medical provider to have their child evaluated if they have any signs or symptoms of Pertussis.

The disease begins as a mild illness like the common cold. Sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever, and mild coughing progress to severe coughing. Some victims have episodes of rapid coughing followed by a high-pitched whoop as they take a deep breath. However, not everyone with Pertussis has such a cough, especially very young infants.

Severe cough may continue for many weeks despite proper treatment. Symptoms may be milder in older children and adults. Pertussis can be a serious disease, especially in infants and young children, health experts say.

Umatilla County seeing whooping cough on rise

Although the number of cases in Oregon lag far behind those in Washington — which is seeing a persistent and statewide epidemic — Umatilla County’s public health officials are cautioning against complacency. “It’s county wide, we’ve had them from all over,” noted department administrator Genni Lehnert-Beers, adding that it is very likely many cases are going unreported and unconfirmed. “So we suspect it’s much bigger.”

Umatilla County has confirmed eight cases of the illness since the first of the year.

The problem is going to worsen when public schools convene and students are in congregate situations, Lehnert-Beers noted.

Pertussis is highly contagious and most infectious during the early stages and for two weeks after the cough starts. People get pertussis by breathing in airborne droplets from the nose and mouth of already infected persons. It can occur at any age but can cause severe illness in non-immunized or not fully immunized infants and children. Antibiotics may be useful early in the disease and are particularly helpful in reducing spread of the disease to other persons.

Nonetheless, once severe symptoms begin antibiotics may not have any effect on symptoms, according the health department.

“The best protection against pertussis is immunizing with DTaP or Tdap vaccines,” Lehnert-Beers emphasized. “It’s important to know that immunizations do not always provide 100 percent protection against disease for everyone, especially if more than five years has elapsed since the last shot”.

Those who attended the Pendleton Library drop in summer reading program are especially encouraged to verify their vaccination status.

For more information about getting vaccinated in Umatilla County call 541-278-5432.

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