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Health unit urges immunization as whooping cough identified in Belleville school

By Stephanie Clue [1]

BELLEVILLE – A case of pertussis [2], or whooping cough, was reported in a Belleville school last week by Hastings and Prince Edward [3] health officials.

The health unit says no other cases have been reported in city schools. All students at the school affected – which the health unit has declined to identify, citing confidentiality issues – were informed of what the symptoms of whooping cough are.

Last May, several cases of whooping cough were reported in Bancroft [4].

Pertussis is a highly contagious virus spread by droplets in the air when someone who carries it coughs or sneezes.

It’s most contagious in the first two weeks after the coughing starts. The cough can become more frequent and can be identified by a high-pitched “whooping” sound when the person with the virus is trying to breathe in.

One person with the illness could infect between 12 and 16 people at once, according to Bill Sherlock, the communicable-disease program manager at the health unit.

“Whooping cough usually affects young children the most, about age five and under,” Sherlock said. “You do see it with teenagers as well, but it’s most common in young children.”

It is very easily treated if the proper measures are taken, he said.

“Luckily there is a vaccine for it, and most children have it. The vaccine is very safe and effective, but it does require a number of shots throughout childhood. For example, young children need the vaccine at two, four or six months of age and again at 18 months and a booster at four to six years and again at 14 to 16.”

Whooping cough affects children more severely because they have smaller airways than adults so, Sherwood said. The younger the child, the more prone he or she is to the disease.

“If you work with children in a daycare, for example, their respiratory etiquette isn’t as polished as an adult’s. So they’re sneezing and coughing and wiping their hands on everything.”

Pertussis can disguise itself as a number of different respiratory infections, such as the flu, Sherlock said.

But “you can treat it at an early stage and you can also vaccinate,” he said.

That’s why the health unit has alerted the community of the recent case, Sherlock said: “To advise parents that it’s out there and to get your children immunized. Because it’s the best way to prevent an outbreak.”

For more information about whooping cough and where to get the vaccine, you can visit the health unit’s website [5].