Health officials have told the parents of two Cherokee County schools to bring their child to the doctor "without delay" if they have symptoms of cough or cold, after two students were diagnosed with pertussis.
Families whose children attend the Free Home Elementary School and the Canton Creekland Middle School received letters this week to warn that students may have been exposed to the highly contagious disease. A student in each of the schools was diagnosed with pertussis, or whooping cough, which spreads in the air when a sick person sneezes or coughs.
The two Cherokee students are brothers and have been vaccinated for pertussis, officials said. No additional cases have been reported in schools, but parents are urged to seek immediate medical assistance if the children show symptoms before February 14th.
The state is not experiencing an unusually high number of pertussis cases, according to the Georgia Department of Health. But experts have said that in recent years there has been a national recrudescence of cases due to changes in the vaccine that make it less effective over time to ward off the cough.
The school districts of Gwinnett and DeKalb reported two cases up to this school year. The Fulton schools reported a case in August and no one since. The public schools in Atlanta did not report cases.
Preliminary data show about 210 cases of pertussis in Georgia last year.
At the national level, there has been an increase in pertussis in the last couple of decades, although numbers are not nearly close to 100,000 more annual cases reported at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The year 2012 brought the largest number of pertussis cases – 48,277 – in the United States since 1955, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2017, the latest final numbers, there were 18,975 reported cases.
The greatest number of cases is attributed to a change in the years 90 to another safer vaccine, but the efficacy of which vanishes over time, said Dr. Walter Orenstein, professor and associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center.
That's why he said it's important to get a booster dose to increase immunity.
In Georgia, children entering care and at school must be vaccinated. Since 2014, children entering the seventh grade have been required to have booster shots to protect themselves from pertussis and other diseases.
It is not common, but it is still possible to get pertussis "even if properly vaccinated," said Jennifer King, spokeswoman for the Health District of North Georgia.
About 2% of children have given up vaccinations due to religious or medical exemptions in this school year, according to statistics from the state's health department.
Pertussis starts to look very much like a cold during the first or two weeks, said Orenstein. Those sick can have a runny nose and a cough, he said.
The next phase, which can last longer weeks, is characterized by coughing spasms. The name "pertussis" comes from the sound that people make while trying to catch their breath after a coughing attack. A period of convalescence follows that can last weeks or even months, said Orenstein.
Children who develop a cough "with or without scream", vomiting or shortness of breath should be evaluated immediately, the North Georgia Health District told the Cherokee parents in a letter.
"Early treatment can help the child heal more quickly and reduce the chances of spreading the disease to others," the letter states.
Children diagnosed with pertussis should stay out of school until the end of antibiotic treatment.
Cherokee School District Spokesperson, Barbara Jacoby, stated in a written statement that the system works with the state health department to ensure that parents receive information "as quickly as possible whenever serious illnesses are diagnosed in the child's school. ".
Cases of pertussis in Georgia
2018: 210 *
* Preliminary data
Source: Department of Public Health of Georgia