April 18, 1997 in Nation/World

Reinforcements Arrive For War Against Pertussis Panhandle Health District Gets Nurses

John Miller Staff writer
 

In its war on pertussis in North Idaho, the Panhandle Health District received some welcome reinforcements Thursday.

Three nurses on loan from public health offices in Lewiston and Moscow, as well as volunteers from Kootenai Medical Center, arrived to help relieve weary veterans of this 17-day siege. Another nurse, from Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, is expected to arrive this morning.

“We realized we had a nurse power shortage and we couldn’t meet the demands,” said Jeanne Bock, director of family and community health.

The problem: There are only 12 nurses in the Panhandle Health District’s Coeur d’Alene offices. In addition to their nursing duties, they coordinate various health programs in Idaho’s five northern counties, including tuberculosis testing, children’s health, even pregnancy and AIDS prevention programs.

But when whooping cough struck April 1, health district nurses were forced to put those duties on hold and concentrate on the disease, Bock said.

“We can’t be doing those types of things and stamping out pertussis, too,” Bock said. “Now, with these additional nurses, we can actually provide some of these other services again.”

Marion Andersen, up from the North Central Health District’s office in Moscow, was helping in the “war room,” a classroom inside the Kootenai Medical Center. A team of social workers, Vista volunteers, and nurses staffed a tangle of telephones. They contacted families of people who tested positive for pertussis, along with the ever-widening circle of those who may have come into contact with these confirmed cases.

Thursday morning, Andersen was waiting for a list of telephone numbers of families with kids in a Hayden Elementary School classroom where pertussis surfaced.

Calling everyone, she said, is a daunting task.

“The kids have been in contact with bus drivers, with teammates at soccer practice, they’ve been to weddings on weekends, with members of their Girl Scout troops,” Andersen said. “All these people need to be called. We let them know what they need to do.”

Andersen worked in the Panhandle Health District’s St. Maries office before moving to Moscow five years ago. But this isn’t the first time she’s been back. Under the cooperative agreement between the Panhandle and North Central health districts, she was in Rathdrum last year to help with immunizations during a less severe pertussis outbreak.

If there were to be a similar outbreak in Lewiston, for instance, nurses from the Panhandle Health District would return the favor.

The district’s epidemiology coordinator, Randi Russo, directs teams handling the phones at Kootenai Medical Center.

Russo estimates they have called thousands of people around North Idaho. Many here, including Russo, have been at it three weeks straight.

After awhile, she admits, the tongue gets thick from delivering the same message over and over again. That’s where people like Andersen are so helpful.

“It’s a lot of morale boosting,” Russo said. “You feel like you’re not alone. You get depressed, but when you see some fresh energy, it boosts your hope.”

Donations of lunch and dinner also have bolstered spirits, Russo said. Shilo Inns have offered free rooms for out-of-town nurses to stay the night as well.

Andersen heads back to Moscow tonight, but her two colleagues, Connie Powell and Susie Church, remain for one more day. Although the crowds awaiting testing have thinned since Tuesday’s peak, the outbreak isn’t over yet.

In the health district office, Powell took a quick break from work that amounts to a lot more than simply “swabbing noses.” Nurses make the first interviews, identify symptoms, and help determine just how many people have been in contact with the patients. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

MEMO: Pertussis testing has moved to 1111 Ironwood Drive, in a basement suite located beneath Aesthetic SurgiCare Northwest. Testing is between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Immunization and treatment is in the Panhandle Health District office at 2195 Ironwood Court. Lake City Health Care, located in the PHD building, also offers preventative treatment for lowincome residents, beginning at 5:45 p.m. next Tuesday and Thursday on a first-come, first-served basis.

These 2 sidebars appeared with the story:

1. NEW CASES REPORTED Health officials in Idaho and Washington reported several new cases of pertussis Thursday. In North Idaho, the number of confirmed whooping cough cases rose from 84 to 87, according to the Panhandle Health District. A 10-month-old infant in Lapwai, Idaho, also has the illness, according to the North Central (Idaho) Health District. Spokane County reported four new cases of whooping cough, up from one on Wednesday. All five cases involve children.

2. ABOUT PERTUSSIS Pertussis is caused by a bacteria that lives in the mouth, nose and throat of people infected. Symptoms are a runny nose, sneezing, low fever and a persistent cough. It’s spread on the moisture of human breath and the droplets from sneezing or coughing. The incubation period is six to 20 days. People who have had direct contact with a pertussis victim AND have symptoms should be tested. Preventive antibiotics are recommended for household members and close contacts of pertussis victims regardless of their immunization status. People with symptoms who don’t know whether they have pertussis should avoid gatherings and children. Just because one family member has been exposed to a pertussis victim does not mean everyone in the family needs to be tested or take antibiotics. Only those in direct contact with pertussis may need medication or testing. 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. Health officials urge parents to get children under age 7 immunized and accelerate their immunization schedule during the outbreak.

Pertussis testing has moved to 1111 Ironwood Drive, in a basement suite located beneath Aesthetic SurgiCare Northwest. Testing is between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Immunization and treatment is in the Panhandle Health District office at 2195 Ironwood Court. Lake City Health Care, located in the PHD building, also offers preventative treatment for lowincome residents, beginning at 5:45 p.m. next Tuesday and Thursday on a first-come, first-served basis.

These 2 sidebars appeared with the story:

1. NEW CASES REPORTED Health officials in Idaho and Washington reported several new cases of pertussis Thursday. In North Idaho, the number of confirmed whooping cough cases rose from 84 to 87, according to the Panhandle Health District. A 10-month-old infant in Lapwai, Idaho, also has the illness, according to the North Central (Idaho) Health District. Spokane County reported four new cases of whooping cough, up from one on Wednesday. All five cases involve children.

2. ABOUT PERTUSSIS Pertussis is caused by a bacteria that lives in the mouth, nose and throat of people infected. Symptoms are a runny nose, sneezing, low fever and a persistent cough. It’s spread on the moisture of human breath and the droplets from sneezing or coughing. The incubation period is six to 20 days. People who have had direct contact with a pertussis victim AND have symptoms should be tested. Preventive antibiotics are recommended for household members and close contacts of pertussis victims regardless of their immunization status. People with symptoms who don’t know whether they have pertussis should avoid gatherings and children. Just because one family member has been exposed to a pertussis victim does not mean everyone in the family needs to be tested or take antibiotics. Only those in direct contact with pertussis may need medication or testing. 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. Health officials urge parents to get children under age 7 immunized and accelerate their immunization schedule during the outbreak.


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