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Press Release

Health Officials Close Contra Costa School to Control Whooping Cough Outbreak

May 9, 2008

Contra Costa health officials have temporarily closed a private school in El Sobrante because of an outbreak of whooping cough (pertussis).

At least 16 children have been confirmed to have whooping cough in connection with East Bay Waldorf School, which has about 300 students grades K-12. More than half of the infected children are in kindergarten. All are recovering. The school has an unusually high number of children who have not been vaccinated against the preventable lung infection. California law allows parents to not have their children immunized. To combat the outbreak, health officials decided to close the school for one day on Friday (May 9) and to only allow students and staff back on Monday (May 12) who are undergoing treatment and have no symptoms, said Contra Costa Health Services' Public Health Director Dr. Wendel Brunner.

"We felt this was the best way to protect the health of the children at this school. Whooping cough is very contagious and can be especially serious for young children," Brunner said.

Contra Costa Health Services' Communicable Disease Programs Unit is working with the school officials to be sure that both students and teachers receive medication to treat the disease. The medication is azithromycin, an antibiotic. Student's parents have been alerted via phone and letter about the outbreak and the school closure.

Only children who have a doctor's note confirming they are taking the antibiotics and who also have no symptoms will be allowed to return to school. All other students will not be allowed to return to school for three weeks (May 30), the time it takes for a person to no longer be infectious.

This outbreak might have been prevented if more of the students had been immunized, Brunner said.

"If children are immunized against pertussis, most of them won't get the illness and if they do, they won't be as infectious and their symptoms won't be as severe," Brunner said. "This is why it is so important for everyone to get vaccinated against preventable diseases."

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. Pertussis 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 children. Both children and adults can be protected from getting whooping cough by being vaccinated.

More information about whooping cough and the outbreak is available online at or on the Health Information Emergency Line at 1-888-959-9911 or 211.

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