Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Whooping cough cases put families on alert

All parents should be on the alert after three city children developed Pertussis, or whooping cough, this month, Plainfield Health Officer Dr. Jadwiga Warwas said Wednesday (Sept. 20, 2005).

Children who are coughing, especially with a gasping intake of breath, or "whoop," should be seen by a doctor immediately.

Warwas said she informed all school nurses, physicians, hospitals and the Plainfield Health Center as soon as two cases were diagnosed on Sept. 13. Three days later, another case was diagnosed. All three victims, ages 11 months, 3 years and 11 years, were in the same family, she said. Warwas declined to name the school involved.

All the children were "fully immunized," she said, but she did not think a different strain of the bacterial infection was the cause, adding perhaps the problem was a "mistaken vaccine."

All three children and their parents were treated with antibiotics, she said.

Statistics from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services show nine instances of the highly contagious disease reported statewide in 2002, with 59 in 2003 and incomplete numbers of 38 for 2004 and 13 for 2005. In Union County, there were no cases in 2002, two in 2003 and none reported for 2004.

The disease can affect all ages and has been on the rise steadily since the 1980s, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in December 2003. It targets those too young to have immunizations and adolescents whose immunity from early childhood vaccinations is no longer effective.

As described by the CDC, the disease lasts for weeks and causes severe coughing, whooping and vomiting. It debilitates young people and can kill persons of any age whose immune systems are weak. Epidemics occur every three to five years.

Children who are coughing should be examined and have a nose swab done to test for the disease, Warwas said. If the doctor believes the child has whooping cough, antibiotics will be prescribed and the child must stay out of school until five days of treatment have elapsed.

Warwas said the restriction will remain in effect through the end of the month.

Warwas, who took office in September 2003, is a medical doctor as well as a public health officer. She said her credentials are "a great advantage to the administration of Plainfield" and said her job is one "I do with all my heart."

In this case, she said, "We took the action immediately, and it was a good one."

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: health