Third Student At Fayetteville Jr. High Diagnosed With Whooping Cough

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KFSM) — A third student at Woodland Jr. High has been diagnosed with pertussis (whooping cough) less than two weeks after an unvaccinated student was also diagnosed, according to Alan Wilbourn with Fayetteville Public Schools.

Immunization records will be reviewed by the school nurse to see if an additional dose of Pertussis vaccine is needed.

In an email sent to parents, the school district said students should be observed for respiratory symptoms for the next 14 days and anyone with a severe cough should be excluded from school and evaluated by a physician.

Some parents of Woodland students are stressing the importance of vaccinations, saying the decisions of some are putting others at risk.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," said Harrison Pittman, father of a 7th-grade woodland student. He said he vaccinated his son for a reason.

"I think it's extraordinarily important to be vaccinated, whether you're talking about whooping cough or polio or measles that we’ve conquered," Pittman said. "We’re lucky enough to live in a country that we’ve conquered that and then to invite it back is kind of the definition of insanity."

Wilbourn said in order to follow Arkansas State Law, all exposed students must take antibiotics or they will be sent home for 21 days.

"The school nurses are now going through the classes that the student had because by the health standard you are considered to be exposed if you’ve spent 30 minutes and within 6 feet or less so if you’re in a classroom sitting next to someone you’ve probably been exposed," Willbourn said.

One parent that the school contacted was Adam Nickell, whose daughter had been exposed to the infected student.

"My wife came home and got the letter," Nickell said. "Essentially all it said was somebody in your daughters class had whooping cough, your child has been exposed to it. You must, must now schedule a doctors appointment, go get on an antibiotic."

Nickell said it's ultimately everyone's choice whether they want to vaccinate their child, but now those choices of consequences.

"I think there's so many things happen downstream that affect everybody else because one person decided not o vaccinate their child," Nickell said.

On Thursday, April 4, Melissa Thomas, director of health services for Fayetteville Schools, said a student at Woodland Junior High School contracted whooping cough and may have exposed about 30 other students.

Those students and seven others who are exempt from vaccinations were sent a letter about meeting with their doctor to discuss the antibiotics. If the students failed to receive the antibiotic by Monday (April 8), they would be barred from school and school activities for 21 days. The medicines are Azithromycin or Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole.

"Immunization records will be reviewed by the school nurse to see if an additional dose of pertussis vaccine is needed. You will be notified if your child needs this vaccine," Wilbourn said. "All students should be observed for respiratory symptoms for the next 14 days.  Anyone with a severe cough should be excluded from school and evaluated by a physician."

State law requires children to receive a Tdap vaccine at 11 unless they're exempt. There are three ways to become exempt from vaccinations through the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) which include religious, medical or philosophical reasons.

"We don't want anyone to have to purchase antibiotics or go on medication or any of those things. We want to keep our kids and our schools as healthy as possible and try to avoid those things as much as possible," Fayetteville Schools Associate Superintendent Dr. Megan Slocum said.

Gary Wheeler with the ADH said he understands exemptions, but the best way to avoid developing severe illnesses is to utilize the vaccinations to help prevent the diseases from becoming an issue.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whooping cough makes it hard to breathe and can affect people of all ages. But it can be severe, even deadly, for babies less than a year old, according to the CDC.

"You can develop what's called a paroxysmal cough which is where you cough and cough and cough until you get a whoop, which is why it's called whooping cough," Pediatrician Dr. Laurie Anderson told 5NEWS.

The CDC recommends whooping cough vaccines for people of all ages.

"Especially as you get older you lose immunity so you are more likely to develop an infection, or if you haven't had immunizations then you are more likely to get an infection," Anderson said.

In order to keep whooping cough from spreading, even more, the district says they are using the same cleaning protocol they use for the flue which includes using a disinfectant that is 99.9% effective in killing the bacteria.

Wilborn says if you have questions to contact your physician, the Washington County Health Unit at 479-521-8181, or the Woodland school nurse, Kristen Scott at 479-445-1272.

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