The health department urges anyone with pertussis symptoms to “seek medical evaluation and avoid public or group settings.”
It is important to keep ill children away from others when necessary to prevent the spread of illness.
— Lorrie Andrew-Spear, health department spokeswoman
“Whooping cough” cases have spiked among Fauquier County children in the last six weeks, according regional health officials.
The Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District “has investigated a total of 25 reports of pertussis illness in children, with ages ranging from under 1 to 17 years” since mid-September, spokeswoman Lorrie Andrew-Spear said Wednesday.
Last year, the health district reported a total of 10 cases in its five counties.
“Fauquier County Health Department staff are working closely with local health care providers, Fauquier County schools and daycare centers to identify, treat and exclude cases from group activities,” Ms. Andrew-Spear wrote in a press release. “It is important to keep ill children away from others when necessary to prevent the spread of illness.
“Additionally, the Fauquier Health Department has sent letters home with all children/students who attend daycare centers or schools with identified cases of pertussis.”
She described pertussis as “a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by bacteria spread through the air in droplets from sneezing or coughing. The illness typically begins with ‘cold-like’ symptoms — runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and cough.
“Newly infected persons are most contagious during the first week of illness when cold-like symptoms are present,” Ms. Andrew-Spear added. “If left untreated, infected individuals may develop a more severe respiratory illness that includes coughing fits accompanied by difficulty breathing, gagging or vomiting, or a cough that is followed by a high pitched “whooping” noise as the person tries to catch his or her breath.”
Most of the recently-diagnosed children “have been previously vaccinated, so it is important to be aware that you can still get pertussis if you have been vaccinated in the past, she said. “The effectiveness of the vaccine varies and may decrease over time.
“This does not mean that you should not get the vaccine. The current vaccine prevents illness for the majority who receive it and also helps to prevent severe respiratory illness, hospitalizations and or death in infants and immune compromised or elderly patients.”
Ms. Andrew-Spear urged anyone with pertussis symptoms to “seek medical evaluation and avoid public or group settings.”
Treatment typically includes a five-day course of antibiotics, with instructions to stay home and avoid group activities for the five days to avoid infecting others.
“The health department also recommends keeping all infants and other high-risk individuals away from anyone with respiratory like illness including those confirmed/suspected cases of pertussis,” she said.
“The best way to prevent the spread of pertussis is by vaccinating all babies, children, teens and adults that are able to be vaccinated. Talk to your health care provider to see if you or your child may need another vaccine to protect against pertussis.”
Ms. Andrew-Spear added: “Like many other respiratory illnesses, including the common cold and flu, pertussis is spread by coughing and sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in bacteria.
“Practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of pertussis: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you do not have a tissue you can cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
“Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you do not have access to a sink with soap, alcohol based hand sanitizers may be used. Do not share food, drinks, vaping products or anything that has come into contact with someone else’s saliva. If you’re ill, stay at home.”
For more information, call Fauquier Health Department at 540-347-6400 and ask to speak with a public health nurse, or contact RRHD District Epidemiologist Daniel Ferrell at 540-316-6278.