Three cases of whooping cough have been reported in Lexington high schools this year; the best defense is vaccinations

Two cases of whooping cough have occurred in less than a month at a Lexington high school, and another Lexington high school reported a case earlier this month.

Two cases were reported at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and one at Frederick Douglas High School, reports Valarie Honeycutt Spears of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Health officials told Honeycutt that this is the ninth confirmed case in Lexington in 2019 and the third for Fayette County schools for the 2019-20 school year.

Whooping cough, known medically as pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory infection spread by coughing, sneezing or close contact. Infected people are most contagious up to about two weeks after the cough begins.

Early symptoms of whooping cough look like a common cold, including runny nose, sneezing, mild cough and low-grade fever. After one to two weeks, long coughing spells develop, which often occur in explosive bursts, sometimes ending with a high-pitched whoop and vomiting. This can go on for up to 10 weeks or more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Pertussis is most dangerous for babies,” says the CDC. “About half of babies younger than 1 who get the disease need care in the hospital.”

Vaccination is the best way to prevent the spread of whooping cough, says the CDC. The childhood vaccine is calld DTaP. The whooping cough booster vaccine for adolescents and adults is called Tdap. Both vaccines protect against whooping cough, tetanus and dipthieria.

Infants should receive a series of DTaP immunizations at 2, 4, and 6 months, with boosters at 15-18 months and 4-6 years. Children should then get a single dose of Tdap vaccine at 11 to 12.

Pregnant women should receive a single dose of Tdap during every pregnancy, preferably at 27 through 36 weeks.

Parents of infants and anyone who provides care to an infant should also be immunized against whooping cough. It is recommended that the infant’s family members receive a one-time dose of Tdap if they have not already done so.

And although the vaccine is effective, immunity tends to decrease over time, which is why the boosters are so important, says the CDC.

Health officials told Honeycutt that they are working with Fayette County Public Schools to make sure parents are aware of the threat of pertussis. They also recommend preventive antibiotics for high-risk students who were exposed.

High-risk students are those with a chronic illness or weakened immune system and those who live with a family member with a chronic illness or weakened immune system, an infant or a pregnant woman.

Honeycutt reports that school-age children with symptoms of pertussis should stay home from school and go see their health care provider, even if they have previously been vaccinated.  Students with probable or confirmed pertussis should remain out of school until they finish their antibiotics.

county-by-county annual student immunization report shows that 93.5 percent of Kentucky’s Kindergarten students have received four or more doses of the DTaP vaccine, with 60% of counties reporting 95% or greater compliance, which lines up with the Healthy People 2020 target measures.

The report found that 92.3% of the state’s seventh graders had received one dose of the Tdap booster, with 92.5% of counties reporting 80% or greater compliance; 93.4% of 11th graders were up to date on their Tdap booster, with 92% of counties reporting 80% or greater compliance; and 94.2% of 12th graders had received one dose of the booster, with 95.7% of counties reporting 80% or greater compliance.  The Healthy People 2020 goal for the upper grades is 80% or greater for one dose of Tdap.

In Fayette County, 96.8% of its Kindergarten students are up to date on their whooping cough vaccine, as are 89.5% of its 7th graders, 92.5% of its 11th graders and 93.1% of its 12th graders

Last year in Kentucky, preliminary data shows that Kentucky had 193 cases of whopping cough, which is 4.33 cases per 100,000 people.