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Dover Post
  • Public health officials investigate whooping cough cases in Amish communities

  • The Delaware Division of Public Health is investigating 48 confirmed cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, in western Kent County among persons in the Amish community.
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  • The Delaware Division of Public Health is investigating 48 confirmed cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, in western Kent County among persons in the Amish community.
    DPH is working closely with the Amish community to offer vaccinations, treatment and information, said Tabatha Powell, chief of data and informatics at the DPH.
    Pertussis is generally treated with antibiotics and early treatment is very important, she said.
    Treatment may make the infection less severe if it is started early, before coughing fits begin. Treatment also can help prevent spreading the disease to others.
    “We were alerted to the cases through our public health staff in the community,” Powell said. The division first became aware of a possible problem approximately two weeks ago.
    Pertussis generally starts out as a mild illness with symptoms developing  within seven to 10 days after being exposed, but sometimes not for as long as six weeks. Early whooping cough symptoms include runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and possibly mild cough or fever. Severe coughing can begin one to two weeks after the illness starts. In infants, the cough can be minimal or non-existent, but it can cause apnea, or pauses in the child’s breathing pattern.
    Once alerted to the problem, the Amish community immediately took action, Powell said.
    “We held an immunization clinic in one of their homes, and the community worked closely with us to do the immunizations and to distribute antibiotics,” she said. “They were very receptive, and it’s been a really good experience working with them.”
    Instances of pertussis in Delaware are relatively uncommon, with only 57 cases reported in 2012, which makes the 48 found just in one area a cause for concern, Powell said.
    None of those cases has been serious enough to require hospitalization, she added.
    Pertussis vaccinations usually are administered in early childhood, with booster shots given during adolescence, Powell said. However, the immunity granted by the vaccinations lessens with age, meaning adults should consider additional immunizations as they grow older.
    One reason children may be susceptible to whooping cough is that their parents, who think they are immune really are not, and they can pass the pertussis bacteria to their children.
    In all, 91 percent of Delaware children between 19 and 35 months of age have been vaccinated for pertussis, although that number drops to 78 percent for those who should receive booster shots between the ages of 13 and 17 years, Powell said.
    Children who never have received any doses of the vaccine are at least eight times more likely to get pertussis than children who got all five doses of the vaccine before age 7. Whooping cough spreads easily by coughing and sneezing, and is a very serious illness for babies and children.
    Page 2 of 2 - For information on vaccination needs, including booster shots for adults, which is especially important for pregnant women, and child immunizations, contact a physician or call the DPH immunization program at (302) 744-1060. Delaware offers free and low-cost vaccines for children who qualify.  
    Report known or suspected cases of pertussis promptly to the DPH Office of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at (888) 295-5156 or fax to (302) 223-1540.
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