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Whooping cough cases crop up on island

"A whooping cough outbreak is infecting Oak Harbor's children, according to local health officials, with nine or 10 diagnosed cases reported since Feb. 18, and infections reported among youngsters from three Oak Harbor schools and a local Cub Scout troop.So far, children at Broad View Elementary, Oak Harbor Elementary and Oak Harbor Christian School, have been diagnosed with whooping cough, also known as pertussis, said Dr. Roger Case, public health officer for Island County Health Department.None of the reported pertussis cases involve adults.And while whooping cough is not necessarily dangerous to adults, Case said it can be very dangerous for children - and sometime fatal for infants.In children, whooping cough can result in prolonged coughing and vomiting spells that can last for weeks, making it difficult for the child to eat, drink, or catch their breath, Case said, adding that the disease was named for the whooping sound infants and young children make trying to catch their breath after coughing.In infants, it can lead to seizures and brain damage, Case said. Death is a possibility, but mostly they're very ill.Whooping cough begins with mild respiratory symptoms similar to a cold. It progresses with severe and prolonged coughing, difficulty in catching one's breath and vomiting.Adults can have whooping cough and never know it, thinking they just have a persistent cough or bronchitis, Case noted.But then they spread it to kids and they can get quite ill. Whooping cough bacteria are stored in the nose and throa. Coughing spreads exposure up to five feet.Five days of antibiotic therapy can render the disease non-communicable, but those infected must also quarantine themselves. Untreated, the disease can last six to 10 weeks, or longer.The best way to prevent whooping cough is by getting the DPT, or diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus immunization, Case said.But even that isn't a guarantee against whooping cough; Case said that so far, all of the children diagnosed with whooping cough have had the DPT immunization.That's because it's only 70 to 80 percent effective, Case said. That means 30 percent of the children exposed may still get the disease. It's ever-present.Still, Case said immunization could be a life-saver.Childhood deaths reached 9,000 a year before we started giving immunizations in the mid 1960s, he said.Case said the whooping cough outbreak will probably 'localize' in Oak Harbor and will probably spread. That's why parents should get their children immunized, Case said. Or adults, if you're coughing for three weeks or more, you really need to be checked.Whooping cough immunizations are available at any primary care providers office, or at any of Whidbey Island's three health care clinics."

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