Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District Advises Residents of Increase in Pertussis Cases in the Community

October 30, 2019

Media Contact: Risk Communications Manager Lorrie Andrew-Spear, Lorrie.Andrew-Spear@vdh.virginia.gov

(Warrenton, Va.) — The Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District (RRHD) is informing Fauquier residents of a recent spike in reported pertussis (commonly referred to as whooping cough) cases among Fauquier children. Since mid-September, the RRHD has investigated a total of 25 reports of pertussis illness in children with ages ranging from under 1 to 17 years. Last year there were 10 cases reported in the five-county health district.

Fauquier County Health Department staff are working closely with local health care providers, Fauquier County Schools and daycare centers (private and public) to identify, treat and exclude cases from group activities (school/daycare, sports teams, church groups etc). It is important to keep ill children away from others when necessary to prevent the spread of illness. Additionally, the Fauquier Health Department has sent letters home with all children/students who attend daycare centers or schools with identified cases of pertussis.

The majority of the recently diagnosed cases have been previously vaccinated, so it is important to be aware that you can still get pertussis if you have been vaccinated in the past. The effectiveness of the vaccine varies, and may decrease over time. This does not mean that you should not get the vaccine. The current vaccine prevents illness for the majority who receive it and also helps to prevent severe respiratory illness, hospitalizations and or death in infants and immune compromised or elderly patients.

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by bacteria spread through the air in droplets from sneezing or coughing. The illness typically begins with “cold-like” symptoms- runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and cough. Newly infected persons are most contagious during the first week of illness when cold-like symptoms are present. If left untreated, infected individuals may develop a more severe respiratory illness that includes coughing fits accompanied by difficulty breathing, gagging or vomiting, or a cough that is followed by a high pitched “whooping” noise as the person tries to catch his or her breath.

If you or your child has pertussis symptoms, seek medical evaluation and avoid public or group settings. Anyone diagnosed and being treated for pertussis is reminded to take all medications as prescribed (typically 5-day course of antibiotics) and to please stay at home and avoid group activities for the five days to avoid infecting others. The health department also recommends keeping all infants and other high-risk individuals away from anyone with respiratory like illness including those confirmed/suspected cases of pertussis.

The best way to prevent the spread of pertussis is by vaccinating all babies, children, teens and adults that are able to be vaccinated. Talk to your health care provider to see if you or your child may need another vaccine to protect against pertussis.

Like many other respiratory illnesses, including the common cold and flu, pertussis is spread by coughing and sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in bacteria. Practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of pertussis:

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you do not have a tissue you can cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you do not have access to a sink with soap, alcohol based hand sanitizers may be used.
  • Do not share food, drinks, vaping products or anything that has come into contact with someone else’s saliva.
  • If you’re ill, stay at home.

Please consult your primary health care provider for additional question or concerns about pertussis. If you do not have a primary health care provider and would like to speak with someone about the increase in cases of pertussis and risk of infection, you may contact the Fauquier Health Department at 540-347-6400 and ask to speak with a public health nurse, or contact RRHD District Epidemiologist Daniel Ferrell at 540-316-6278.

The Rappahannock Rapidan Health District serves residents in Fauquier, Rappahannock, Culpeper Madison and Orange counties. For more information, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/Rappahannock-Rapidan/.