Parents reacted with alarm Monday as a whooping cough outbreak continued to spread, with 56 confirmed cases in North Idaho and the illness crossing the state line.
Two Post Falls boys who attend a Spokane Valley day-care center tested positive for the disease over the weeksend, health officials said.
Officials at KinderCare in Veradale said they are taking every precaution to prevent the outbreak from spreading further.
“It’s been crazy,” said Lisa Stanley, the center’s director. “My first reaction was ‘Oh my gosh. What are we going to do?”’ It was quiet there Monday. Half of the center’s 95 children were gone.
Instead of the usual coats and drawings on the wall, parents saw neon yellow signs: “One of our (children) has been diagnosed with whooping cough,” the signs said. “Contact your physician immediately.”
Nearly all the KinderCare kids were exposed last week to whooping cough by the 7-year-old Post Falls boys, Stanley said.
When KinderCare employees heard about the first child on Friday, they immediately called parents, advising them to either get their kids tested or put them on antibiotics.
On Monday, 50 of the KinderCare kids were taking daily doses of the antibiotic erythromycin.
The other half - those who were coughing, sneezing and suffering from cold-like symptoms - stayed home, waiting for test results from the Spokane Regional Health District. So far, all the tests have come up negative, said Stanley.
KinderCare’s 20-member staff also has been put on antibiotics.
When Cheryl Gum of Spokane heard about the whooping cough case at KinderCare last Friday, she left work early to bring her two children to their doctors.
“I was a little scared,” she said, cradling her 8-month-old son Grayson in her arms. “They’re both immunized, but I heard they could still get it.”
While no cases have been reported in Spokane County, 56 people have been diagnosed with whooping cough in North Idaho.
Last year, Spokane County had 54 cases.
“What that represents is a month and a half of pertussis around one middle school and one high school that we pursued very aggressively,” said Paul Stepak, Spokane Regional Health District epidemiologist. “If you do that, you can find lots of cases.”
In fact, the recent outbreak only became known after the death of a 2-month-old Post Falls boy on March 28. The cause of death was pertussis.
Eventually, the outbreak would have become apparent, perhaps in the latter stages of the disease, said Jeanne Bock, director of family and community health for the Panhandle Health District in Coeur d’Alene.
“We just happened to catch this in the initial phases,” she said. “In the early stages, people often don’t know they have it.”
Stepak said it’s possible Spokane-area cases will come to light.
“I don’t know what to expect, but there are certainly plenty of crossborder contacts,” he said. “The measure of one’s immunization program is the degree to which one can withstand such cross-border exposures.”
Washington may be able to withstand it better than Idaho.
Idaho’s immunization rate for 2-year-olds is 66 percent, and North Idaho’s rate is 61 percent. Stepak said Washington’s rate is 78 percent.
Even so, immunized children can still get pertussis. A Hayden Lake fourth-grader who tested positive for pertussis last week was up to date with her vaccinations, said her school principal.
No other children have tested positive at the school, although all parents were notified of the outbreak.
“We’ve gotten several phone calls,” said Hayden Lake Elementary Principal Kathy Kuntz. “Those who have small infants, those parents are fearful. I can understand their concern.”
Health officials urge parents to immunize their children even though it’s not 100 percent effective, because it can still lessen the effects of the disease. Most of the cases Panhandle Health District has identified have been in Post Falls.
The Hayden Lake student apparently was exposed to pertussis during an after-school gymnastics practice.
Environmental health specialists have been called in to help with the investigation of possible contacts. And family doctors throughout the area have been busy prescribing antibiotics for exposed children.
At KinderCare, the center’s kitchen now looks like a clinic, its counters covered with plastic spoons and amber-colored medicine bottles.
“It tastes bad,” said 7-year-old Brandon Perez, scowling as he described the chalky, white antibiotic he’s taking.
Unless the children test negative for pertussis, those who are at home with cold-like symptoms will not be allowed to return to the day care until six days after the symptoms appeared.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: PERTUSSIS FACTS Pertussis, or whooping cough, is most contagious during its early stage. Symptoms are a runny nose, watery eyes, scratchy throat and an irritating cough that progressively worsens. Incubation period is six to 20 days. Immunization against pertussis is 70 to 90 percent effective in children. The disease isn’t as severe in children who have been immunized. Adults and teenagers, whose immunity may have worn off, can be infected. Pertussis fatalities are low, but 80 percent of deaths are children under a year old. Health officials advise people displaying symptoms to stay away from others - particularly children - and avoid sharing cigarettes, utensils or anything else that spreads germs. Anyone in contact with someone known to have pertussis should see a doctor for treatment.