Cover your mouth

Pertussis, better known by its general name “whooping cough” or the “hundred days cough,” is an extremely contagious bacterial disease.

—an extremely contagious bacterial disease becoming more and more commonplace right in our own backyard.

The unfortunate symptoms of this infection speak for themselves. They include a long series of coughs followed by a “whooping noise” that gives the infection its namesake. The cough is often worse at night and cough medicines usually do not help the cough.

In the past year alone, Missouri has seen a 184 percent rise in reported cases of probable pertussis according to a release by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). This particular rise has been most evident in metro areas such as Kansas City and St. Louis.

Conditions aren’t much better in St. Charles County. At Francis Howell Central, there have already been three students tested for pertussis. While none have been confirmed as of yet, school nurse Lori Godby is still weary.

“It was reported to us from a parent yesterday, but we weren’t told what day [the pertussis] test was performed,” said Godby. “It takes a couple days for the results to come through.”

Whooping cough is most dangerous — even fatal — in cases such as infants, the elderly, and those with a compromised immune system. According to the DHSS, an early waning of previously used vaccinations could be to blame. Although no fatalities were reported in the past year, the general trend for infections is spreading to 10 through 16 year olds.

“We can’t stress enough the importance of students keeping their immunizations up to date,” said Godby. “There are new booster vaccinations available for persons 10 – 64 years of age.”

The DHSS holds that vaccination still remains the single most effective strategy for preventing infection.

Although, the question remains; what can one do to steer clear of catching this looming pertussis? The answer? Keep it simple, says school nurse Christy Gerling.

“It’s the usual stuff — wash your hands, don’t drink after other people — the same run-down as flu season. Just be cautious,” said Gerling.

Update 08/24/12: All three students’ tests for whooping cough came back negative.