The Arkansas Department of Health has declared an outbreak of whooping cough, or Pertussis, in neighboring Van Buren County. There have been five recorded cases at Conway Regional Medical Center, some within the past two weeks, according to Conway Regional.
The cases have been in school-age children, a spokesperson said.
Susan Molsbee, infection preventionist at Conway Regional, said it is typical to see several cases locally in the winter, and the number is not considered abnormal.
Select groups that could potentially be at risk within a school system are tenth- eleventh- and twelfth-graders, according to Dr. Dirk Haselow, state epidemiologist with the Arkansas Department of Health.
Individuals within that group were likely immunized around age 4 or 5, and the vaccine lasts about four years, Haselow said.
Children under the seventh-grade and over age 10 also at risk, he said.
Three years ago, Arkansas instituted a mandate that seventh-graders receive the Tdap vaccine.
Children over 10 years old three years ago likely missed the Tdap vaccine.
"At age 4 or 5, most children get a DTaP vaccine that contains Pertussis , and it lasts about four years. Kids who are above age 10 and under seventh-grade are in the group that would benefit from an additional vaccine in the context of an outbreak," said Haselow.
Seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-graders are likely to be effectively immunized at this point, he said.
About 30 cases of whooping cough were found two weeks ago in Clinton schools, a majority of which were middle-schoolers. About 30 more cases were found in residents not attending the school.
Haselow said ADH responded by providing a vaccine clinic within the school for elementary students, middle- and high-schoolers. There was also a clinic for adults.
Medical staff at Clinton Medical Clinic, owned by Conway Regional, received boosters during the recent outbreak at Clinton Middle School. Staff worked closely with the health department in treating patients and families there, spokesman John Patton said.
Until about a week ago, the health department and Center for Disease Control recommended one single booster to guard against Pertussis in adults.
Haselow said the new recommendation is that women receive the Tdap vaccine in the third trimester of each pregnancy.
"Pertussis can infect everyone, but the high risk is with infants. Children under 1 are much more likely to be hospitalized and are more likely to have bad outcomes, such as death," he said.
Depending on an infant’s age, the child may not be effectively protected until a fourth dose in a series of the DTaP vaccine.
Haselow said statistics show more than 50 percent of infected children under 1 will be hospitalized with Pertussis. More than 70 percent of infected children under sixth months will be hospitalized.
Molsbee said Conway Regional offers the vaccine to women who deliver babies at the hospital, and it is routinely offered to medical staff.
Vaccine for Children, a federally funded immunization program, provides vaccines at no cost to uninsured and underinsured children up to 19 years of age. The program is accessed through health department clinics or through family doctors who are registered members of the VFC network.
The Tdap vaccine for adults is available at health department clinics, through primary care physicians, and at some pharmacies.
Haselow said adults are not covered through the vaccine entitlement program, and the vaccine may cost around $50.
"What happened in Clinton was unusual, and we widened immunizations to include age groups and grades. We don’t usually do that," he said. "In the situation now in Faulkner County we’ve had a few cases here and there, but we haven’t gotten to the point of needing widespread immunization. It’s a recommendation that the next time they have a health maintenance visit, they get up to date with vaccinations."
Molsbee said to keep sick children at home, and encourage sanitary habits like covering coughs and sneezes.
"Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Stay out of the T zone, and that goes a long way in the schools," she said.
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is an upper respiratory infection caused by a bacteria. The disease can cause permanent disability in infants, or death.
The disease is spread through coughs and sneezes, and is easily spread from person to person.
The illness usually lasts six weeks and begins with mild respiratory symptoms such as coughing, sneezing or a runny nose.
The illness in children is characterized by the "whoop" noise at the end of a cough, the sound produced when the child tries to take a breath.
The noise is rare in patients under six months and in adults, according to information provided by CDC.
Pertussis is treatable with antibiotics if detected early.
The DTaP vaccine should be given to children at two months, four months, six months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years.
It is highly recommended by the CDC and the Arkansas Department of Health that anyone over age 19 and up to age 65 receive a booster of the Tdap vaccine once in their lifetime.
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