St. Matthias Parish School has 28 whooping cough cases

MILWAUKEE -- St. Matthias Parish School in Milwaukee is dealing with a large cluster of whooping cough cases. The case count stands at 28 as of Tuesday, April 24th.

St. Matthias Parish School Principal Susan Booth says the school sent home fact sheets with signs and symptoms of pertussis, or whooping cough to parents. Booth was first notified that one of her 424 students had the bacterial respiratory infection on Good Friday. Booth says many doctors are starting the antibiotics before the test results confirming the infection come back. "Once they are confirmed, they are put on a five-day regimen of antibiotics. During those five days, they may not attend school," Booth said.

Paul Biedrzycki with the Milwaukee County Health Department says pertussis is highly contagious and the antibiotics not only cure the students, but those most susceptible for contracting the illness or developing complications. Of the infants who contract whooping cough, 70 percent are hospitalized. In February, a baby less than a month old died from the illness. Biedrzycki says the best prevention is vaccination, although the vaccine is not a 100 percent guarantee an individual will not contract the illness.

"It's all about vaccinating the siblings who are generally school age, or the adults who provide care to infants and toddlers as soon as possible, to interrupt the chain of transmission within the household or community setting," Biedrzycki said.

Pertussis symptoms include persistent fits of coughing, runny or stuffy nose and sometimes, a mild fever.

Booth at St. Matthias Parish School says the infection has almost run its course, according to the Health Department. "They gave a three-week period from the date the first confirmed case came in, so we are watching for symptoms through next Friday," Booth said.

In a three-month period, there have been 55 cases of pertussis in Milwaukee (from January to March, 2012). In all of 2011, there were 59 cases. Back in 2004, there were 1,400 cases in Milwaukee.

CLICK HERE for more information on pertussis via the Milwaukee County Health Department website.