While many people are concerned about the Ebola outbreak in Africa, another disease — more contagious, though less deadly — is spreading in Pottawatomie County.
Health officials have reported more than 80 cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, in the Wamego and St. Marys areas since April.
Pottawatomie County Health Department Director Leslie Campbell said the outbreak started in the schools, so officials are trying to focus efforts there to stop the spread of the disease by offering vaccination clinics.
Most of the cases at this point are in the St. Marys area, though a child at West Elementary in Wamego was diagnosed this week, she said.
“Part of the issue is that people aren’t being immunized,” she said. “Also, when people get the immunization, after a few years the vaccine’s effectiveness kind of wanes.”
Whooping cough, which is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, causes an uncontrollable cough that can make it hard to catch one’s breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The sharp inhale following the cough sometimes sounds like “whooping,” which is how the illness got its name.
Campbell said Kansas has had an averge of 93 confirmed cases state-wide over the last three years, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The state is already over that number so far this year, tallying 157 cases up to Aug. 16.
The 80 cases in Pottawatomie County are probable, not confirmed, cases, she said.
KDHE reports just 16 confirmed cases in the county this year to date. But Campbell said that doesn’t account for many situations. Sometimes one child in a family tested and diagnosed with whooping cough, but other members of the family with similar symptoms are treated without being tested. Also, a diagnosis by a nurse or nurse practitioner rather than a doctor isn’t counted in the total.
Campbell said the figure also likely isn’t up to date.
Only one confirmed case has been reported in Riley County, and that person was treated in July, said Jason Orr, Riley County public health emergency preparedness coordinator.
The early signs of whooping cough are runny nose, sneezing, fever and a cough. It’s most contagious during the early stages of the illness, and becomes less so after about 21 days.
Campbell said she’s recommending people have the vaccine, particularly if they’ve been in contact with someone who has the disease.
“It’s nice if it’s in the last five years — that means they’re really up to date,” she said. She said vaccines are now available for people of all ages.
Campbell said it’s important to have the vaccine not only to protect yourself, but also to prevent the spread for people whose immune systems are compromised.
“Yeah, maybe it isn’t so bad for you or your child, but it might be for someone else’s child,” she said. “That’s the reason we want to decrease the spread as much as possible.”