South Dakota school districts deal with rise in whooping cough cases

Published: Mar. 5, 2019 at 10:24 PM CST
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The number of pertussis cases, more commonly known as whooping cough, are on the rise in South Dakota.

Several school districts in our area have had students diagnosed with it.

“Children are just at risk and because of the close quarters and the way our kids share everything, we just need to be on a bit heightened of awareness,” Dell Rapids Superintendent Summer Schultz said.

About 36 cases of whooping cough have already been confirmed in 2019 and young kids are the most susceptible to the infection.

“Our students in a classroom setting are just so vulnerable to the spreading of that,” Schultz said. “We house so many children. It’s just important to put the awareness out for parents and teachers.”

Whooping cough is spread very easily through sneezing, coughing, or even just talking.

The Dell Rapids School District is just one of the many schools that was sent a letter by the South Dakota Department of Health stating a student had been diagnosed with the illness.

“We’ll work to issue a letter to the classroom where the child has been located,” South Dakota Department of Health State Epidemiologist Joshua Clayton said. “We notify the parents of those children that there has been a potential for pertussis exposure within that setting and then make recommendations to verify their vaccination status.”

“We then immediately share the information with parents,” Schultz said. “Our school nurse took advantage of that time to give teachers some warning signs.”

The Harrisburg School District has also been hit by some cases of pertussis this year.

In a statement they said, “The Harrisburg School District takes communicable diseases very seriously. Unfortunately, there has been a rise in pertussis cases in the greater Sioux Falls area. When we are notified of a potential case of pertussis, we work with the South Dakota Department of Health to confirm the case and determine the steps needed to help keep our community informed and safe.”

The illness begins with cold symptoms like a runny nose, fever, and a cough.

“After about a week or two when a normal cold should be winding down and getting better, the pertussis only ramps up,” Avera Family medicine physician Dr. Mark List said. “That’s when you get the classic whooping cough or these intense coughing spells followed by this gasping breath in.”

So how can you help prevent it?

Doctors said washing your hands thoroughly and covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze always helps.

“Vaccination is the way to prevent it,” List said. “The more people that are vaccinated within your own community, in your own daycare, in own school, the lower chance that your child will get exposed to it.”

The Sioux Falls School District has also dealt with their fair share of pertussis cases.

In a statement they said, “The Sioux Falls School District always encourages both students and staff to practice good health habits like, washing your hands many times throughout the day, covering your mouth anytime you cough or sneeze, eating nutritional and balanced meals, and making sure you are getting a good night of sleep. We also emphasize with our families that all students should be up-to-date on their vaccines. 90% of the Pertussis cases we’ve seen at the Sioux Falls School District happened in students who were in fact vaccinated. While the Pertussis vaccine isn’t 100% effective, just like the flu shot, the fact that we aren’t seeing hundreds of cases of whooping cough versus the few we’ve had is evidence the vaccine is in fact effective. If any parent or guardian thinks their child could be affected by the whooping cough, they should contact their physician as soon as possible.”

The whooping cough vaccine is about 85 percent effective.

Health officials said it’s important for children and adults to be up to date on vaccines and boosters.

In 2018 about 162 cases of whooping cough were confirmed in South Dakota.