A bulletin to parents on Saturday morning from the Ithaca City School District says, “A case of pertussis or whooping cough has been identified at the Ithaca High School and your child may have been exposed.”
Earlier this month, a case was reported at Cayuga Heights Elementary School. The district has not identified either student, and has declined to respond to our requests for additional information.
“Pertussis is a contagious bacterial infection of the respiratory tract that is spread through the air by coughing or sneezing,” according to the school district’s bulletin. “Pertussis begins with cold symptoms and a cough, which becomes worse over 1-2 weeks. Symptoms usually include a long series of coughs followed by a whooping noise.” The cough can last for weeks or months, sometimes leading to vomiting.
“Anyone can get pertussis,” the district says, “but it can be very dangerous for infants and people with weakened immune systems.”
Reports of pertussis in Tompkins County aren’t unusual. The Tompkins County Health Department tells us there were three reported cases in September, and four in July. “We are always working to build awareness about the importance of immunization and help families stay up to date,” the department’s Samantha Hillson tells us.
The district urges parents whose children have a cough to keep them home from school and activities such as sports or play groups, to make an appointment with the child’s doctor, and to warn the doctor that the child may have been exposed to pertussis.
“Make sure your family’s vaccinations are up to date,” urges the school district, which passed along recommendations from the Tompkins County Health Department. “The single most effective control measure is maintaining the highest possible level of immunization in the community.” Protection from the childhood DTaP vaccination decreases over time, and older children and adults should get a pertussis booster vaccine called Tdap, health officials say.