With cold and flu season officially underway, health officials in Clackamas County and the tricounty region have observed an uptick in cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, since July.
As of the week of Nov. 4, between 45-50 cases of pertussis have been reported to the county, which is double the number of cases last year.
Of those, most have been school-age children. On Nov. 7, the Clackamas Community Health Division released a statement to West Linn High School students citing a case of pertussis.
A highly contagious, bacterial respiratory infection, pertussis is spread through direct contact with mucus from the nose or throat and symptoms develop within seven to 10 days after contracting the illness, according to CCHD.
"There have been a few cases, I believe, at West Linn High School and there have been a number of cases at several high schools in the county and in the region," said Dr. Sarah Present, a Clackamas County health officer.
Nov. 20 the district announced another case at Bolton Primary School.
"We are in a hot year for pertussis and we know that we have a communitywide spread of it, and we actually have more cases of it in Clackamas than we do in the other two counties (Multnomah and Washington] in our region with which we share data."
According to Present, pertussis is unusual in that it is hard to initially diagnose because its earliest symptoms are the same as the common cold.
It isn't until the second week of infection that more aggressive symptoms begin to manifest.
"Whooping cough does follow three- to five-year waves, and we're at a time to have an uptick in pertussis. The amount that we've had, in Clackamas County in particular, has been the most we've had in many, many years," Present said.
"And it is at many elementary schools and middle schools. But when we have a case that's seen at a school, we know that those are places where kids, many of whom are going to be susceptible to getting it, are in close contact with other kids, so it's a high-risk for transmission place," she said.
"When we do have cases, we want to make sure that the whole school community that could have been exposed to know that they could have been exposed."
When the county alerts a school, Present said they often will only send one letter even if there are multiple cases that come in at the same time in order to protect students' identities.
Once students are alerted that they have been exposed to pertussis, Present urges students to stay home if they begin to develop coldlike symptoms.
"There are a few misconceptions or misperceptions about pertussis that are important to know," Present said.
"One thing we have noticed is that while the pertussis vaccine is a recommended health vaccine and most people are vaccinated, and it is absolutely the best way of protecting against pertussis, it's not 100% and the immunity does wane over time. So, we recommend a pertussis booster around 11 or 12 years old, and not as many people get that booster."
Present stressed that getting the vaccine is by far the best way to protect against contracting pertussis, but she also said everyone's immunities are different and having been vaccinated is not a protection guarantee.
In order to protect other students and the community, Present recommends those who have been exposed to pertussis to stay home if they start to show signs of getting sick, even if they are mild, and to get tested by a healthcare provider.
If a case is confirmed, County officials caution that the patient should stay home until they've completed a full course of antibiotics.
"Because this is a bacterial infection, we recommend that you do stay home for the full five days of antibiotics," Present said. "While most people recover from whooping cough OK, it can be a miserable cough that lasts for many, many weeks."
The County recommends pregnant woman and small children get vaccinated since children under the age of 1 are more vulnerable to complications that can result in death.
"People may hear about cases in their school and I want them to know that pertussis is active in the community and that they should be thinking about it," Present said. "So, get your boosters and be current on all of your vaccines."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.