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Whooping cough case confirmed at HHS

Whooping cough is one of those diseases most people believe they've been vaccinated against, but last week a letter went home to parents in the Hudson School District saying at least one case of the disease has been confirmed at the high school.

According to St. Croix County Public Health Nurse Barb Nelson, there have been six recent cases of whooping cough reported in the county involving adolescents and adults. There has been one case identified in Hudson. The others have been in Baldwin, Somerset and in Glenwood City.

Pertussis, the technical name for whooping cough, is a bacterial disease that is spread through the air by direct face-to-face contact with a person who is infected with it. According to the memo from the district's school nurse, Sharon Kaltenberg, pertussis is highly contagious and easily spread to others. The disease is most serious when it strikes young children but is treatable with antibiotics.

According to Kaltenberg's memo, children and adults should see their doctors if they show the following symptoms:

  • Cold symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever and mild cough for greater than or equal to seven days. Early cold/cough is the time that the disease is most contagious.

  • The cough progresses to spells of explosive coughing, coughing spasms and intake of breath that sounds like a "whoop."

  • The cough is worse at night; and

  • Cough medicines are usually not effective.

    Anyone who suspects they have the disease or is experiencing a persistent cough or other symptoms should see a doctor as soon as possible. The quickest test for the disease is a nasal swab referred to as a PCR. Results from it are usually available within 24 hours.

    Those who are diagnosed with it must stay at home and avoid contact with others until they have completed five days of antibiotics or tested negative for pertussis.

    "It really is a question of using common sense when it comes to this," said Nelson. "We need to be diligent about washing our hands, covering out mouths when coughing or sneezing and being checked out by a doctor. Stay home when you are sick. Anyone who suspects they may have pertussis should ask for the test in light of the cases that have turned up across the county," said Nelson.

    Kaltenberg said that most teenagers and adults are susceptible to pertussis because the vaccination has worn off. The vaccination is only given up to age 7 because of its side effects on older children. The vaccine wears off in about five years so teens and adults do not have protection against the disease.

    According to Nelson, more than 3,400 cases of pertussis have been reported statewide in 2004. The occurrence of the disease is year-round but generally peaks in the late summer and fall. According to statistics, Nelson said the occurrence of the disease peaks every 3-5 years. Most at risk are the very young and the elderly and anyone whose immune system is compromised.

    Pierce County has reported several cases in recent weeks. This is the first confirmed case in the Hudson School District, according to Kaltenberg.

    All suspected and confirmed cases of pertussis must be reported to the school nurse who by state statute must report cases to the St. Croix County Health Department.

    For more information about pertussis, call the health department at (715) 246-8263 or Kaltenberg at (715) 386-4233. Nelson said there is also information about the disease at the state's Web site at

    Meg Heaton can be reached at

  • Meg Heaton

    Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

    (715) 808-8604