Parents urged to keep eye out for symptoms

A Franklin High School student has come down with a case of pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, prompting the school to mail home advisory letters Monday for parents and health care provider.

Though this year has seen a significant increase in cases of whooping cough in Oregon, a single case at this point is not considered an outbreak.

'It's still important to inform parents that there is a case in the school because we don't want to have more,' says Amy Sullivan, Communicable Disease Program Manager for Multnomah County Health Department. 'At this time, it's a sporadic case.'

Whooping cough is a contagious respiratory infection. The illness starts with cold-like symptoms, and develops into a severe cough, sometimes characterized by a whooping sound when a sick person breathes in.

As of Monday, the Oregon Health Authority reported 248 pertussis cases in Oregon this year. This is up from 106 cases last year. However, Washington has seen a much steeper increase, with 1,484 reported cases compared with 134 cases in 2011.

How the disease spreads is significantly tied to how many people are vaccinated, Sullivan says.

'There is a much higher risk of acquiring the disease if one is not vaccinated,' she says.

The increase of pertussis cases could be due to multiple factors.

'There are concerns in Washington and in Oregon with increased vaccine hesitancy and some outright refusals to get vaccinated at all,' Sullivan says. 'Also, we may be doing a better job at finding cases that exist.'

Sullivan says there have been at least eight high school cases in the tri-county area since late April.

In the letter from Sandra Matossian, a public health nurse for Multnomah Education Service District, parents were recommended to keep their child home from school if their child has cold-like symptoms and a worsening cough for seven days or more. They should tell their doctor that their child might have been exposed to pertussis.

Parents are asked to call the Multnomah County Disease Control Office at 503-988-3663, extension 26938, if their child does have whooping cough.

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