Health officials discuss pertussis

By Kitsey Burns Harrison -

What could have become an outbreak of a highly contagious and potentially life threatening disease was averted this summer thanks to the quick response from area health officials.

Following the Impact Yadkin event, an outreach and service event hosted by area churches, a case of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, was reported. According to the CDC, pertussis is a “highly contagious respiratory disease known for uncontrollable, violent coughing and most commonly affects infants and young children and can be fatal, especially in babies less than one year of age.”

Communicable diseases like pertussis are reported to state agencies so that measures can be put in place to prevent a widespread outbreak, explained Jessica Wall, assistant director of health and human services for the county.

The child suffering from whooping cough was not a Yadkin County resident, but did participate in Impact Yadkin and was around close to 1,000 other children and adults. Once the case was reported to the county, officials quickly reached out to the organizers of Impact Yadkin in order to ensure that precautions could be taken for those who were exposed.

Wall said the system in place for reporting communicable diseases cases, which includes a Health Alert Network (HAN) alert that all statewide health officials are a part of, was one of the key factors in ensuring steps were in place to prevent an outbreak.

“Immediately you’ve got great communication from Raleigh, from the Communicable Disease branch, then you’ve got your HAN alert to health directors and public health officials,” Wall explained. “We share information immediately so people can start to look for signs and symptoms. That was a really great thing to happen early on in the process.”

Another factor helping prevent a potential outbreak, Wall said, was the quick response from coordinators with the Impact program. Wall said an estimated 700 to 1,000 youth participated, including not only county residents but youth from other counties and states as far away as Kentucky and even Hawaii.

“I have to give kudos in regards to how well this was handled by the Impact staff,” Wall said. “The coordinators had an amazing social network. They got this information out to their participants very quickly.”

Several students who were in close proximity with the individual were given a round of antibiotics just to be on the safe side, Wall said, while others were given information on signs to look for should they contract pertussis.

Impact coordinators Brent Winslow and Chris Hauser said they were impressed at how well things were handled by the county health department.

“Through this unfortunate situation of an Impact participant being diagnosed with whooping cough shortly after the mission event, we have come to appreciate the leadership of our Yadkin County Health Department even more than we had previously,” Winslow said. “Not only did they alert us promptly after they received notice of the diagnosis, they also formulated an action plan for us to carry out in order to notify the on-site Impact participants. In addition they provided the information and documentation that was distributed to our church group leaders and ultimately to our construction volunteers and other on-site volunteers. We are also very grateful for the church leaders from each of our Impact construction groups as they notified all of their construction/on-site volunteers, and then provided documentation back to the health department.”

Wall said that pertussis is covered by a vaccination and one that is required for school children and highly recommend for pregnant women as well. Babies under the age of six months are not able to get the vaccine, but can be protected somewhat my antibodies from a mother who received the vaccine or a booster.

Vaccinations have come under fire in some areas recently as not being effective and potentially causing other problems. Wall said vaccinations are not always 100 percent effective, but it most cases it does eliminate the risk of contracting the disease. She compared it to wearing a seat belt in a car, while there is certainly the risk of still being injured in a car crash while wearing a seat belt, the statistics are much more in favor of that seat belt protecting the person from more devastating injuries.

She always recommends good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle to help prevent getting sick from communicable illnesses.

“Getting your fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, exercising on a regular basis, those are things that are going to completely boost your immune system,” she said.

She added hand washing was one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of illness and stay healthy.

Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.

By Kitsey Burns Harrison

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