Bennington deals with whooping cough outbreak

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(Host) An outbreak of whooping cough, or pertussis, is moving through the Bennington region. The Vermont Department of Health says as many as 80 known and suspected cases of the disease are being treated.

Most involve young people from about half a dozen Bennington area schools. But cases have also been diagnosed in the community at large. Another, smaller outbreak has been identified at the Putney School in southeastern Vermont.

Doctor Cort Lohff is with the Vermont Health Department. He says children are routinely immunized against pertussis before they enter school.

(Lohf) “The problem with the vaccine is that there’s no booster available for it. So as a child gets older immunity from the vaccine kind of goes away, so they become more susceptible to the disease as they get older.”

(Host) Lohff says pertussis in older children and adults rarely leads to serious complications.

But the disease is easily spread through droplets expelled during coughing. And older victims can pass the disease on to very young children, who may not be completely immunized. The very young are more susceptible to serious effects.

(Lohff) “And some kids may need to be hospitalized, some kids may have apnea which is such severe coughing that they stop breathing, some kids may have severe seizures as a result of this infection, and unfortunately in rare cases some young kids may die as a result of pertussis. So that’s why we’re really concerned about the disease and that’s why we want to do our best to ensure that anybody with pertussis is appropriately treated so we can prevent the spread of this to very young and highly susceptible kids.”

(Host) Lohf says simple antibiotics are generally effective against pertussis. Antibiotics can also prevent people who’ve been exposed from getting the disease.

Symptoms of pertussis include a persistent barking cough that’s often followed by a gasping intake of breath, or whoop, from which it takes its common name.

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