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Whooping cough hits Orange elementary schools
BY ROBIN KNEPPER
A rise in the number of pertussis cases in the area has hit two Orange County elementary schools particularly hard.
"We had 11 cases 2 weeks ago. Now we have 17," said Gene Kotulka, director of student services for the school system.
Kotulka said tests on four other students Friday came back negative, "but it comes in waves, so we may see more."
All of the affected students attend either Lightfoot Elementary or Unionville Elementary, which are near each other on U.S. 522. According to Kotulka, all the students have been vaccinated.
Commonly known as whooping cough, pertussis is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection spread by bacteria moving through the air when a person coughs. Infants are particularly vulnerable.
Dr. Dana Bradshaw, director of the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District, said Friday that information about pertussis had been sent to school officials, who have disseminated it to parents, community organizations and health care providers.
"We are continuing to encourage making sure vaccinations against pertussis are up to date in all persons, including adults," he wrote in an e-mail, "and cases are appropriately treated and excluded from schools until non-infectious."
Children are considered non-infectious after five days on antibiotics or 21 days if not treated.
"One thing to stress is that many older adolescents and adults may not realize they could benefit from the Tdap [tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis] vaccination and that these are recommended for all adults now by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices," Bradshaw wrote.
While the number of whooping cough cases has increased around the Fredericksburg region and the state, Orange has seen the greatest increase in the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District.
There had been three confirmed cases in Culpeper County and four in Fauquier County through the end of October, Bradshaw said. No cases were reported in Madison County through October.
In the Rappahannock Area Health District, which includes Fredericksburg and surrounding counties, 35 confirmed or probable cases of the disease have been reported this year, the district director, Dr. Brooke Rossheim, said last week. Spotsylvania County has had the most, with 20 cases.
Orange Superintendent Bob Grimesey said school nurses have been working with teachers and parents on the pertussis problem.
"We are very troubled by the recent rise in pertussis cases and we are monitoring the pattern closely," Grimesey wrote.
"We also can't say enough about the support and cooperation we have received from parents. It appears that parents and educators have learned many lessons from their dealings with the MRSA and H1N1 outbreaks in recent years."
Robin Knepper: 540/972-5701