Kindergartener recovering from whooping cough

ESCONDIDO — A five-year-old kindergarten student at Pioneer Elementary School is recovering from pertussis, or whooping cough, health officials said Tuesday.

The child developed the bacterial disease even after receiving the recommended five-part course of vaccinations, officials said. County Public Heath Officer Wilma Wooten explained that while the whooping cough vaccine greatly reduces the risk of developing the illness, no vaccine is 100 percent effective.

The child was treated with antibiotics and is expected to recover fully, officials said.

On Friday, Pioneer Elementary sent letters to the homes of its 114 kindergartners informing parents their children could have been exposed, said Linda Bethel, a public health nurse with the county’s Health and Human Services Agency immunization branch

Letters went to kindergartners’ homes only because the young students are physically isolated at the school, Bethel said.

The ill student was pulled out of school after developing a bad cough, but could have been contagious for several weeks beforehand, Bethel said.

“Unfortunately, with whooping cough, oftentimes people are ill for awhile before they get diagnosed, and they are most communicable for the period of time before they are sick,” Bethel said.

She said pertussis usually starts with what can be mild cold and flulike symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and a mild cough. Those symptoms can last up to two weeks and may be followed by severe coughing fits and vomiting.

Whooping cough can occur at any age, but infants and young children are at highest risk of life-threatening complications, such as pneumonia.

Health officials recommend that children get doses of the whooping cough vaccine at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months and 4 to 6 years of age.

For people between the ages of 11 and 64, officials recommend a Tdap booster shot because the initial childhood vaccinations may wear off.

Bethel said whooping cough is a relatively rare disease that appears to have stabilized in San Diego County within the past few years. She said that may be in part due to a rising childhood vaccination rate and the adult booster shot Tdap, first licensed in 2005.

There were 50 cases of whooping cough reported in the county in 2007 and 51 in 2008. This year so far, there have been 27, Bethel said.

There were 145 cases reported in 2005 and 371 in 2004, Bethel said.

In 2005, the last year for which statistics were available, 88 percent of San Diego County children between 19 and 35 months old had received their recommended vaccines, according to the San Diego Immunization Initiative, a private and public partnership that promotes vaccinations. The county’s childhood vaccination rate has grown since the early ’90s, when between 60 and 66 percent of 2-year-olds were fully immunized.

For more information about whooping cough, call the county’s immunization office at (619) 692-8661, or visit the Web site at

Call staff writer Sarah Gordon at 760-740-3517.

© Copyright 2009, The North County Times, Escondido, CA