The state Department of Health is urging on-time vaccination of children for the prevention of pertussis, or whooping cough.
The Fairfax County Department of Health department first reported an outbreak of pertussis Dec. 3, through a letter sent to all Fairfax County Public School principals, community physicians and parents updating them on recent pertussis cases found in some county schools.
Since then, the state department of health has recorded 233 reported pertussis cases in 2004 — up from 91 in 2003 and 140 reported in 2002.
State Health Commissioner Robert B. Stroube said children should be vaccinated on time — according to the recommended schedule — to ensure protection from exposure to adults who are sick with the illness.
Pertussis can be prevented through immunization and a vaccine is given to children at two, four, six and 15 months of age and again when a child enters school — at least three doses are necessary to protect a child.
An adult pertussis vaccine is not available in the U.S. and protection from the vaccine begins to decrease six to 12 years following vaccination.
The bacterium that causes pertussis is found in the nose and throat of infected people and is spread through the air in droplets produced by sneezing and/or coughing.
Persons in the early stage of illness are the most contagious and the disease can be very serious in infants — children less than one year — where it can cause lung infections and, less often, seizures or swelling of the brain.
Symptoms of pertussis begin like a cold, with a runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever and cough.
The cough becomes progressively worse and coughing episodes may be followed by a whooping noise when the person forcefully breathes in air.
Symptoms usually appear four to 21 days after exposure to someone with the illness. In adolescents and adults symptoms may be milder. Anyone having a persistent unexplained cough should see a physician. If a person is exposed to pertussis, antibiotic treatment may help prevent or lessen the disease.
For more information on pertussis, log onto the Virginia Department of Health's Web page at http://www.vdh.virginia.gov