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Press Release

Whooping Cough Outbreak at High School

February 2, 2007

Health officials in the East Bay are working to control an outbreak of whooping cough (pertussis) at a local school that has sent three infants to the hospital and could sicken others.

Contra Costa Health Services' Communicable Disease Programs Unit is working with Richmond High School officials to be sure students and their children enrolled in a special program get the medication they need immediately to prevent further spread of the disease. Health Services explained the outbreak to the students yesterday and will provide antibiotic medication and vaccines Monday at Richmond High School. Letters are also being sent to the parents of all students in the school informing them of the outbreak in the school.

"Unfortunately, whooping cough has been on the rise in the last five years because more people are not getting important vaccinations," says Francie Wise, the County's Communicable Disease Programs Chief. "Having three cases in one school at once is an outbreak which we need to control now."

Whooping cough is a respiratory disease that is spread through the air when someone coughs or sneezes or by other close contact. Complications include vomiting, pneumonia, seizures, and brain damage. The disease causes violent coughing spasms that can last several minutes and persist for months. Infants are especially at risk and in a few cases, could even die. The familiar "whoop" that gives the disease its name is the sound of a toddler or child fighting to breathe when coughing. Very young children and infants may not "whoop" but tend to cough spasmodically, gasping for air. (More information about whooping cough and the outbreak is available online at or on the Health Information Emergency Line at 888-959-9911)

Wise says the County's Public Health Nurses met with students to let them know that they or their children were in close contact with the infants who became ill. They were asked to return on Monday and Tuesday to get medication so that those who are ill with whooping cough or at risk for becoming ill do not spread it. The medication is azithromycin, an antibiotic.

Health Services is encouraging anyone with a cough lasting longer than two weeks to talk to their health providers. Wise says children can be protected from getting whooping cough with the common childhood vaccine Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis (DtaP). The first injection should be given at 2 months of age, followed by three additional injections by the time the child is 18 months old. Two of the infants at Richmond High School were not old enough for their first vaccination.

Since the vaccine can wear off by adolescence, teenagers and adults can get whooping cough and should be vaccinated with a new vaccine. Wise says it is seldom serious in adults, and is often mistaken for a bad cold or bronchitis. But adults who are ill with whooping cough can spread it to infants and other. "The bottom line is that everyone should be vaccinated because it is a very contagious disease and it's virtually impossible to prevent it from infecting unvaccinated infants and children. We need to wipe out the disease.

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Press Contact
  • Francie Wise
  • 925-313-6740
  • Vicky Balladares (for Spanish media)
  • 925-313-6817