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Officials target pertussis outbreak

Families urged to exercise caution during holiday week.Clark County has seen a record number of cases this year.

Clark County health officials said that the pertussis outbreak has reached a record high with 98 suspected and confirmed cases since Oct. 1 and warned it could continue to spread through the holidays.

The disease, also known as whooping cough, could spread this week with children on break from school and families gathering for Thanksgiving, Clark County Combined Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said.

“With all of the schools being out at least four days and some of them five or six days, it’s going to have an impact. We hope it’s going to be a positive impact. (But) many times one of the issues around the holidays is people who are sick don’t want to stay home … unfortunately, if those people do go to those events, they could easily spread the pertussis bacterium to all the people in their family,” Patterson said.

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease known for uncontrollable, violent coughing that often makes it hard to breathe.

“The disease is spread by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the pertussis bacteria,” according to Tessie Pollock, a spokeswoman with the Ohio Department of Health.

The Ohio Department of Health is encouraging residents statewide to get pertussis vaccinations as the outbreak has been seen in Clark County and other areas around Ohio, Pollock said.

This year, Ohio has seen a 20 percent increase in reported pertussis cases, compared to 2012. As of Nov. 2, there had been 901 cases reported in 2013, compared with 742 on the same date in 2012.

In Montgomery County, for example, 111 cases of whopping cough have been confirmed this year. That is an increase of nearly 400 percent by this time last year, Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County reported.

As of Monday, Clark County had 31 confirmed cases, 66 suspected cases and one probable case since Oct. 1, Patterson said.

Clark, Madison, Pickaway, Licking, Delaware and Richland counties have the highest rates of the disease, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Patterson said the number of pertussis cases regionally and statewide was unexpected.

“Since we were keeping track of whooping cough cases for the last 25 years, this is definitely higher than we’ve ever seen. We used to get concerned when we would see two or three or four cases that were potentially at the same time. So now we’re seeing these numbers. These are unheard of in any recent years,” Patterson said.

Patterson said he would discourage residents who have pertussis and who have not been under a doctor’s care or who have not been treated with antibiotics for 48 hours from attending holiday gatherings.

Infants, the elderly and individuals with autoimmune disease are especially at risk and could suffer a more serious form of the disease.

The Clark County outbreak temporarily closed The Rocking Horse Center’s South Limestone Campus in Springfield on Nov. 1 and 2 after an employee was diagnosed with a confirmed case of pertussis. A second employee was later diagnosed as well.

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