February 15, 1997 in Nation/World

Respiratory Illness Takes Heavy Toll Now Whooping Cough Adds To Bad Idaho Winter

Winda Benedetti And Craig Welch S Staff writer
 

If you’re sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching or have a stuffy head - take some cold medicine and get in line. You’re not alone.

Between nasty viral infections, painful sinus attacks and the recent outbreak of whooping cough, North Idaho residents seem to be beleaguered by more than their fair share of bugs this winter.

The bad-weather blahs have wiped out office staffs. Students are staying home in droves - and not because they’re playing hookie. One child was hospitalized with pertussis.

“It’s been a busy winter for us,” said Dr. David York, a Coeur d’Alene physician who specializes in respiratory illness.

York said he’s seen far more respiratory infections - a.k.a. colds - this winter than he did last year.

“It’s been sore throats, runny noses, upper respiratory congestion developing into coughs and sometimes shortness of breath,” he said. He chalks it up to a group of viruses that have been hunting their human prey with particular ferocity this year.

There’s little that can be done for viral infections. Over-the-counter cold and flu medication and lots of rest is the best medicine.

However, “The virus can set the stage so that bacterial infections can take hold,” York said.

“I’m seeing a lot of sinusitis,” said Dr. Philip Dooley of Group Health Northwest. The painful nasal infections are caused by a bacteria that can be treated with antibiotics.

It might be time to visit the doctor if symptoms last for more than a week, a fever lingers and the stuff in your Kleenex starts turning a yellow-greenish color, the doctors said.

Since Christmas, four times as many kids have been sick at Harrison Elementary School compared with previous years.

“Usually we just have three or four kids out at a time, but this year it’s anywhere from 14 to 20,” said secretary Jan Sturgill. “Now we’ve got pink eye being added to the list.”

In fact, so many children are sick that teachers are asking students to clean their desks with a bleach-and-water solution at the end of the day.

“It’s at best a holding action,” Sturgill said. “There’s not much we can do.”

Sturgill said she hoped the long Presidents Day weekend might end the mini-epidemic.

“Maybe three or four days off will clear things up,” she said.

At Ponderosa Elementary School in Post Falls, the nasty cold season seems to be clearing up. But not until after more than 10 teachers were home sick at the same time.

“They were coughing and losing their voices,” said a secretary there. “When they were out, it was like a three to five day thing not just one or two days.” At the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department, more than half the staff - about 80 people - have been out sick at one time or another over the last few months, said Capt. Ben Wolfinger.

KMC had one of its busiest Decembers on record this winter, said spokesman Mike Regan.

In December 1995, there were 836 in-patient admissions and 7,247 out-patient visits. That compared with this December when 942 in-patients and 7,436 out-patients were treated.

In the last two months, 10 cases of pertussis - whooping cough - have been diagnosed in Kootenai County, said Marie Rau, public health nursing supervisor for the Panhandle Health District.

Doctors diagnosed seven of those cases in the last two weeks - all of them in children. Whooping cough can be fatal for youngsters. A 2-month-old boy was hospitalized but is now recovering and has been sent home, Rau said.

Rau asks that those with cough-related sicknesses ask that their doctors consider checking for pertussis.

Betty Keifer elementary has had several students out this week, said Judy Gerstenberger, a part-time school nurse.

“It’s kind of nasty this year.”

Even her husband and daughter are stricken.

“My daughter never misses school, but she’s missed four days already,” she said. “It’s a yucky time of year.”

, DataTimes


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