Whooping cough outbreak strikes two area schools

Whooping cough outbreak strikes two area schools
Elder students eat lunch in cafeteria (FOX19/Gordon Graham)
Elder students eat lunch in cafeteria (FOX19/Gordon Graham)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The Cincinnati Health Department is reporting outbreaks of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, across the city including Elder High school and Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy.

Parents received a letter about the spreading illness in early October, advising them of the recommendations put forth by the City of Cincinnati Health Department.

The letter read:

Your child may have been exposed to pertussis (whooping cough). Since September 30, the City of Cincinnati Health Department has seen an increased number of pertussis cases at Elder High School. Pertussis is an infection that affects the airways and is easily spread from person to person by coughing or sneezing.

The letter continues with recommendations from the health department including:

  1. Being on high level alert for a severe or persistent cough
  2. Getting on antibiotics if the child has a weakened immune system
  3. Having a doctor prescribe antibiotics if the child lives in a home with a woman who is pregnant, an infant younger than 12 months old or anyone with a weakened immune system
  4. Telling the school that the child has been diagnosed with pertussis
  5. Having the doctor write a note if the child does NOT have pertussis so they can return to school activities

The outbreak at Elder began a month ago with one student and quickly spread to 20 students, but before things got out of hand Principal Tom Otten says the Cincinnati Health Department was called in.

"One of the students came to the school nurse," Otten said. "She realized what she was dealing with at the time so she alerted the Cincinnati Health Department."

Otten, says the health department advised them to follow a strict protocol when a student or faculty member shows symptoms of pertussis.

"He goes to his physician and either gets a positive or negative. If it comes out negative then he's allowed back in class. If it comes up positive that he's got whooping cough then there's a mandatory five day anti-biotic treatment," said Otten. 

During those five days the student must stay home. Elder school nurse, Linda Giessler says pertussis is highly contagious.

"Pertussis spreads. It can start off like the common cold, you know cough, sneezing and because it's respiratory in nature it's very contagious," Giessler said. 

Custodian Jeff Hillgrove says he uses special wipes to sanitize the entire building because the disease stubbornly clings to surfaces.

"It actually will live on a surface for up to seven days so we've been doing this daily trying to knock it out get it out of the school building," Hillgrove said.

Similar steps are being taken at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy which is reporting five cases of whooping cough. They hope that at Elder the disease has run its course.  
All 20 Elder students are healthy and back in class, but school officials are staying vigilant to make sure the outbreak doesn't reoccur.

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