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Swim program may have spread whooping cough

While the number of pertussis cases on Whidbey Island jumped to 43 this week, Island County Health Officer Roger Case warned that children and instructors who participated in a Coupeville swim program may have been exposed.

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, results in violent coughing fits that eventually may lead to vomiting and being unable to breathe. It is spread by coughing. Anyone who has come into contact with an infected individual should seek treatment immediately.

This week, Case reported that individuals who participated in the Coupeville Lions Swim Program held at Admiral’s Cove Pool between June 23 and July 2 may have been exposed to pertussis. Island County Public Health currently has reports of laboratory-confirmed cases from people who attended the following swim class time frames: 9:40 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 11:40 a.m. and 12:20 p.m.

As of last Thursday, the Island County Health Department reported 27 confirmed cases. The ailment struck Central and South Whidbey.

Four South Whidbey Little League teams were withdrawn from their regional tournament to prevent spreading pertussis off the island. One of those teams, consisting of players ages 13 and 14, was allowed to play after all players, parents and coaches were decreed free of symptoms and had their vaccinations updated.

“At the game, not a single person coughed on either team or in the audience. The South Whidbey team was probably better protected than the teams they were playing,” Case said.

Case couldn’t permit the three younger teams to play because there is no vaccine out for ages 6 to 12.

However, that doesn’t mean everyone should stay away from the island.

“There’s no reason why anybody who wants to visit Whidbey Island shouldn’t,” Case said. “But I wouldn’t come here myself if my immunizations or my kids’ weren’t current.”

“The mainland media played this up as an epidemic and captured people’s attention more than needed. They blew it way out of proportion,” Case continued. “A good thing came out of it, though. Adults now realize they need to get immunized just like kids do. They think there’s only two shots, but there’s more than two.”

Case emphasized that immunizations need to be kept current. Along with that, people need to cover their coughs, wash their hands and stay home if they are sick.

“That’s the same for any disease,” said Case.

Island County Public Health is tracking contacts and testing more people. They can be contacted at 679-7351.

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