Sedgwick County seeing rise in whooping cough, West Nile virus cases

An increase in the number of reported cases of pertussis and West Nile virus have local health officials reminding residents about the need for vaccinations, booster shots and other preventative measures.

Sedgwick County Health Department officials said Tuesday that they have received 47 reported cases of pertussis, or whooping cough – nearly six times the number of cases reported last year.

So far 22 cases have been confirmed, including one involving a student at OK Elementary School in Wichita, said Kathy Hubka, coordinator of health services for the Wichita school district.

“The child was at an open house event (before school started last week) but so far has not attended school,” Hubka said. He is being treated and could safely return soon, she said.

Hubka said it was “highly unusual” to have a confirmed case of pertussis this early in the school year. Last year in Sedgwick County, there were eight reported and three confirmed cases.

As more children return to school, officials expect the number of cases to rise.

“We’ve got 50,000 kids back, and they just kind of spread the germs,” Hubka said.

“It’s an airborne disease and highly contagious. So we do try to stress coughing into your elbow, proper hand-washing, staying home if you’re sick.”

Pertussis is spread when someone with it coughs or sneezes. Initial symptoms resemble a cold – runny nose, sneezing, a slight fever and slight cough – but the coughing intensifies in frequency, severity and regularity. People may make a “whooping” sound as they breathe.

A case is confirmed through a nasal swab and treated with antibiotics.

Coughing can last for six weeks or more and can be severe enough to cause vomiting or crack a rib. In infants, pertussis and its complications, such as pneumonia and other infections, can be deadly.

The disease is prevented by childhood immunizations given at 2, 4, 6 and 12 months of age.

Children in Kansas public schools are required to receive a vaccination for pertussis before enrolling in kindergarten. Students in seventh to 10th grades are required to get a booster, Tdap, which prevents the disease in older children.

Amanda Matthews, county spokeswoman, said many of the reported cases this year involve 10- to 14-year-olds, the age group in need of the Tdap booster.

“We’re stressing the need to get that booster,” Matthews said. “It’s also important for adults to know they’re protected if they care for infants.”

Kansas schools allow exemptions from vaccine requirements for medical or religious reasons. Hubka, the district health coordinator, said school nurses urge families to vaccinate students who can get the shot to help protect those who can’t.

Children who have received organ transplants or are undergoing chemotherapy treatments, for example, can’t get the vaccine and are at greater risk if exposed to the disease, Hubka said.

“A lot of people are going to get (pertussis) and get over it and be sick and remember how sick they were,” she said. “But there will be some of the babies and others (with weakened immune systems) who could die. … It’s very serious.”

The Tdap booster and other required vaccinations can be obtained at a physician’s office, the Sedgwick County Health Department or at safety-net clinics such as GraceMed or Hunter Health Clinic, which provide immunizations at little or no cost.

West Nile virus

Sedgwick County officials also said Tuesday that the number of reported cases of West Nile virus has climbed to 33 in the county. Health officials continue to receive notice of possible cases from hospitals and laboratories in the county.

The virus, transmitted through mosquito bites, has been blamed for several deaths in the Dallas area and prompted officials there to spray insecticide from airplanes to combat the pests.

There are no medications to treat or vaccines to prevent West Nile virus, Matthews said. Prevention methods include eliminating pools of standing water where mosquitoes breed, wearing long sleeves or pants, and using insect repellant with deet when outdoors.