Parents warned as whooping cough hits school

Parents of pupils attending a Cork City primary school have been urged to check that their children’s vaccinations are up to date on foot of a suspected case of whooping cough at the school.

Public health officials have written to the parents of about 220 children attending Scoil Iósaf Naofa, in Crab Lane, Ballintemple, after a possible case of the highly contagious respiratory disease was identified.

In the letter delivered to parents yesterday, HSE senior medical officer Dr Mary Kieran warns that children not vaccinated against whooping cough are most at risk.

“Whooping cough is a lung infection that can be very serious in young infants and in children with lung or heart problems or other chronic illness. Possible complications include pneumonia, seizures, and brain damage,” said Dr Kieran.

Concerns that the pupils may have been exposed to whooping cough comes as the number of cases of the disease continues to rise in Ireland as well as internationally.

By Nov 17 last, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre had been notified of 416 cases including two infant deaths from the disease. It is a 104% increase on the 203 cases reported in 2011.

The HSE said the increase was likely in part to be due to improved diagnosis, but that there was also “increasing evidence of waning immunity”.

This is not the first time the Crab Lane school has had to grapple with the fallout from a highly contagious respiratory disease.

In Aug 2010, a case of tuberculosis was identified which eventually led to seven cases of full-blown TB at the school along with 37 cases of latent TB infection. In terms of whooping cough, the HSE has recently seen an increased number of cases among infants, some of them too young to have received the three primary doses of vaccine — at two, four, and six months — necessary to provide protection.

Infants under six months of age are most affected by the disease; 131 cases in this age group were identified up to Oct 25 last.

Parents of young babies are advised to keep them away from anybody with a cough.

Whooping cough usu-ally starts with a mild chesty cough that develops into a severe cough. There may be a whoop sound after a spasm but it is not always present. Spasms of coughing can cause vomiting in infants, and young children may have a runny nose and a pause in their breathing but little cough.

The illness usually develops seven to 10 days after exposure to the illness. Parents have been advised to contact their GP if their child develops a cough. Taking the correct antibiotic as soon as symptoms start can help stop the illness from spreading.

The HSE said children with whooping cough should stay at home until they have taken the appropriate antibiotic for at least five days. If they have not taken antibiotics they should stay home for 21 days from the start of illness.

Immunisation is the most effective way to prevent infection and limit the spread of the illness.


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