BETHLEHEM — There are now four lab-confirmed cases of pertussis in the Bethlehem Central School District (BCSD) that have been reported by the Albany County Department of Health (DOH). In addition to those cases, DOH is reporting three more cases “confirmed by clinical criteria plus an epidemiologic link to a laboratory-confirmed case,” meaning they have symptoms of pertussis and have been in close contact with lab-confirmed cases (i.e. in the same household).
Currently, laboratory-confirmed cases have only been reported at the middle and high schools — two at each. Slingerlands and Eagle Elementary schools have each reported one epidemiologically-linked case and the third epidemiologically-linked case is at the high school.
Pertussis, an acute infection of the respiratory tract commonly known as whooping cough for a ‘whoop’ sound the often accompanies the persistent cough, is very contagious and is most dangerous to infants. There tends to be a spike in reported occurrences every 3-5 years, according to the state health department (NYSDOH). To qualify as an outbreak, two or more cases must be reported in a common household within 42 days of each other.
“The term ‘outbreak’ really means more cases than we would normally see in the community, but there is not a need for overt concern,” said Mary Rozak, director of communications for the Office of the Albany County Executive.
“All of these individuals have sought and received appropriate medical care and were excluded from the school community until no longer contagious,” wrote BCSD Superintendent Jody Monroe in a letter to parents. “Although the likelihood of your child having been exposed to pertussis through interaction at school is low, it is important that you be familiar with the signs and symptoms of pertussis.”
According to NYSDOH, symptoms usually appear about seven to 10 days after exposure, but can appear anywhere from four to 21 days after the person is infected. In rare cases, it can take up to six weeks to develop symptoms. People who have been vaccinated tend to have milder symptoms.
Symptoms appear in three stages:
- Stage one lasts 1-2 weeks. Symptoms may initially look like the common cold, but the cough begins to get worse. A runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever and mild occasional cough are all common.
- Stage two can last 1-2 months. The cough becomes more severe and fits may be followed by a high-pitched whoop, which means the person is trying to catch their breath. Occasionally, an infected individual will turn blue and vomit mucus or food. They also may have brief periods when they stop breathing.
- Stage three may last weeks to months. This is the recovery phase, when a person slowly gets better. Coughing fits may potentially return if the person gets another respiratory illness.
In a community experiencing a pertussis outbreak, NYSDOH recommends being tested if: “the individual has a non-productive cough of seven days or greater without any other known cause even if no epidemiologic link can be established, OR the individual has a non-productive cough of any duration and an epidemiologic link to a known pertussis case.”
“The district has been in constant contact with parents district-wide, informing them of all developments, and reminding them to pay close attention to the signs and symptoms of pertussis,” said BCSD spokesperson Jo Ellen Gardner. “District administrators and our nursing staff are working closely with the County Health Department and taking direction from the professionals there.”