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Whooping cough spreads in Benewah County

An outbreak of whooping cough has spread to 16 children in Benewah County and has hospitalized one.

The affected children range from 3 months old to 17 years old, said a Panhandle Health District news release. The child that was hospitalized has returned home and is improving.

The first known case in Benewah County was reported May 27. Since January, 24 cases have been reported in five northern counties, including eight in Kootenai County. The five northern counties typically report six or seven cases a year, the news release said.

“We suspect exposures are occurring at a couple of churches and day cares,” said epidemiologist Jeff Lee. “Pertussis is highly contagious in group settings – within families, work settings.”

Children diagnosed with pertussis should stay at home, the news release said. The disease usually starts with a runny nose and watery eyes, with a cough taking over a week or two later. Doctor-prescribed antibiotics can kill the infection and prevent it from spreading. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises the entire family of a child diagnosed with pertussis to take antibiotics.

Most with pertussis were not immunized, the news release said. Pertussis, which is characterized by severe coughing spells that lead to vomiting and shortness of breath, is among the childhood diseases that vaccinations can help prevent.

While the vaccine protects people from getting the disease, it does not work completely for all people, the news release said. Still, it has been shown to prevent serious symptoms in people who have been vaccinated.

Untreated, it can cause pneumonia, seizures and encephalitis. It is particularly dangerous for children younger than 12 months old.