The Log Cabin Democrat learned on Monday of a letter that went out to parents on Feb. 1 regarding a possible case of whooping cough at Frank Mitchell Intermediate School in Vilonia.
According to Vilonia Superintendent David Stephens, the district received a notification alert and a letter from the Arkansas Department of Health on Jan. 31 and asked the district to distribute the letter to its parents.
“Really, that was our involvement,” Stephens said.
He said because they got the letter so late on Thursday, they had to wait until Friday to send it home.
The letter from ADH reads as follows:
“Dear Parent: A fifth grade student in the Vilonia Intermediate School has been identified as a contact to a positive pertussis (whooping cough) case. Pertussis is a highly contagious disease involving the respiratory tract caused by a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis.”
The letter continues.
“Immunization records will be reviewed by the nurse to see if an additional dose of pertussis vaccine is needed. You will be notified if your child needs vaccine.”
Stephens told the LCD on Tuesday that the nurse had done just that.
“Our nurse reviewed all the vaccination records to make sure no students [were] behind on the vaccination,” he said, adding that all was good.
Stephens said this is the first time that he can remember that the health department has reached out to their district like that and just assumed it was standard protocol.
When they did receive the notification, though, he did say the intermediate school’s nurse reached out the department for more information and asked if the alleged fifth-grade student had been diagnosed.
“Their response was, ‘no,’ that a student had been in contact with someone who had, apparently,” Stephens said. “So, we didn’t know anything beyond that.”
The letter was written by Dr. Dirk Haselow, medical director in the health department’s communicable disease and immunization section.
“All students should be observed for respiratory symptoms for the next 14 days,” he wrote. “Anyone with a severe cough should be excluded from school and evaluated by a physician.”
The LCD asked Stephens if he knew whether the student was back at school. He said he was not told who the student was and didn’t know whether they were back at school and politely declined getting “into that,” reiterating that the distribution of the letter was all that was done on the district’s part.
“That was really the extent [of] our involvement with it,” Stephens said. “No reports, no students diagnosed. Just following the regulations of the [Arkansas] Department of Health.”
The LCD reached out to the department’s public information officer, Meg Mirivel in an email and received a reply at 2:28 p.m. on Tuesday.
Mirivel said there are a number of diseases that are required to be reported to ADH, including whooping cough.
“Any time a case is reported to us, we interview the case or an immediate family member to determine who may have been exposed,” she said. “In this case, we alerted the school about a potential exposure out of an abundance of caution. We did work with the school to send the letter. I can’t give any specifics about the patient.”
In addition to the letter, the district also received a pertussis fact sheet.
Included, was the who, how, what, when and more regarding the contagious disease.
As to who, the ADH outlined that pertussis can occur at any age, with adults and adolescents recently identified as a major source, accounting for more than half of the reported cases in the U.S.
“The rest of the cases are in children less than [5-years-old] and in infants younger than [six] months,” the sheet reads.
Regarding the how it’s contracted, the ADH fact sheet states that it is primarily spread by direct contact with discharges from the nose and throat of infected people and, frequently, older siblings can bring the contaminants home to infect the younger ones.
“Pertussis begins as a mild upper respiratory infection,” the sheet reads, addressing disease symptoms. “Initially, symptoms resemble those of a common cold, including sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever and a mild cough. Within two weeks, the cough becomes more severe and is characterized by episodes of numerous rapid coughs followed by a crowing or high[-]pitched whoop.”
Dr. Haselow advised anyone with questions to contact their physician or the Faulkner County Health Unit at 501-450-4941.