Whooping cough has affected a group of local high school students, Orange County health officials said.
The latest outbreak of the infectious disease, also known as pertussis, started last week at Chapel Hill High School and East Chapel Hill High, Lulia Vann, an infectious disease specialist, told WTVD.
An outbreak is defined as three or more reported cases, health officials said.
Whooping cough symptoms can include a runny nose, low-grade fever, exhaustion, vomiting and coughing fits that can end in a loud “whooping” sound when the patient inhales. It’s caused by a bacterial infection spread through exposure to someone sneezing or coughing, and can be dormant for five days to three weeks before symptoms appear.
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The disease can be especially dangerous for babies, who do not always have a cough, but can develop “apnea” and stop breathing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reports that roughly half of babies under a year old require hospital treatment if they become ill.
Vaccination is important for preventing or lessening the symptoms of whooping cough, CDC officials said. Once infected, a patient typically is treated with antibiotics.
The state reported 361 cases of whooping cough in 2017, up from 300 cases reported in 2016. The number of cases fell from 14 in 2016 to six last year in Orange County, state records show; Durham County has 13 cases last year, and Chatham County had two.
Incidences of whooping cough statewide were down nearly 50 percent last year from a high of 782 in 2014. Orange County reported 12 cases that year, and there were 20 cases in Durham and 33 cases in Chatham.
North Carolina law requires all children to receive a series of vaccinations, including for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps and chicken pox, before starting a child-care program or public, private or charter school. Students also must have additional immunizations before they start the seventh grade.
While the state's goal is to provide required vaccines free of charge to all children, budget cuts have limited that program, and parents whose children have health insurance coverage are usually asked to pay.
The Orange County Health Department provides immunizations by appointment in Hillsborough and Chapel Hill. Call 919-245-2400.
More information and a printable schedule of childhood vaccinations can be found on the Health Department's website: bit.ly/20ewxl0. The Health Department also provides a link with information for parents who choose not to have their children vaccinated at bit.ly/1kXd2NF.