Polk County Health Department Announces Steps to Prevent Spread of Pertussis

Polk County Health Department issued the following press release today regarding pertussis (whooping cough) being present in the community, including at some of our schools. Please be aware of the symptoms to look for and what you can do to prevent the spread of pertussis.

 Polk County Health Department News Release

On Thursday morning Polk County Health Department and Des Moines Public School officials sent a letter to the parents and employees at Weeks Middle School, Lincoln High School and Lincoln South outlining additional steps to prevent the spread of pertussis (whooping cough).

“Although the number of positive cases (11) is not unusually high, given the geographic concentration of the
cases and the contagious nature of pertussis we believe additional steps are warranted,” said Terri Henkels, Director of the Polk County Health Department.

The letter outlined the following steps:

  1. Make sure anyone over the age of 10 has received a Tdap booster (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis)
  2. Anyone at (one of these schools) with a cough should contact their healthcare provider.
  3. If a person has pertussis and has coughed less than 21 days, they need to take antibiotics, and stay home during the 5 days they take the antibiotics.  Staying home includes not having visitors over to your home.
  4. If a person has pertussis and has coughed more than 21 days, antibiotics are not needed as the person can no longer pass the disease on, and the antibiotics will not make them better any sooner.
  5. If a person has been around someone with pertussis, they need to take antibiotics so that they will not become sick.
  6. If a person is well, even if they are taking antibiotics to prevent them from getting sick, they do not need to stay home.

“It is not unusual for a child diagnosed with pertussis to have close contact with 50-100  others.  With this number of children and staff potentially exposed we are taking a more pro-active response,” said Ms.

Pertussis is spread through the air when someone who is sick with pertussis coughs. Pertussis begins with a
runny nose, sneezing, and cough. The cough slowly gets worse over several weeks, and can develop into uncontrolled coughing spells and in young children a cough with a whooping noise when the child tries to breathe in after the cough. Also, after severe coughing spells, a person of any age may vomit or
become blue in the face from lack of air. Between spells, the person often appears to be well. This illness can last weeks to months. In adolescents and adults, pertussis is often a long lasting cough.

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