A letter posted by the Pullman School District on its website that five Pullman High School students have been diagnosed with whooping cough in the past few weeks is incorrect, according to the Whitman County Health Department.
But that doesn’t mean parents and students can breathe easy.
“There had been a confusion with the nurse in this office and the Pullman (School District) nurse about the case count,” Whitman County Health Department Director Troy Henderson said.
There have been five confirmed cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, in Whitman County since September, Henderson said.
“In reality, we’ve had two lab-confirmed cases at the high school and they are more than 21 days apart,” he said, noting the 21-day separation means the situation doesn’t meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria for an outbreak. “With that being said, there’s a number of kids right now at the high school that are symptomatic. We really have a heightened concerned about the high school.”
Henderson said he knows of “a number of patients, several with presumed pertussis” who have been treated in the past couple days and whose lab results are pending. It takes about five days to receive the results, and he said an outbreak classification in the next week or so is not unlikely depending on the outcome of those tests.
According to the CDC, the illness usually starts with cold-like symptoms but can develop into coughing fits that last for weeks. The name “whooping cough” comes from the sound people make after a coughing fit has emptied the lungs of air and forced an inhalation that makes a loud “whooping” sound.
Exposure to the illness comes when people breathe in pertussis bacteria contained in the droplets of an infected person’s cough or sneeze. It can take a week or more for someone exposed to pertussis to develop symptoms, according to the health department.
Mike Larson, a public health nurse with Public Health – Idaho North Central District in Lewiston, said there aren’t any confirmed cases in neighboring Latah County now, but there have been occasional cases throughout the district over the past couple of years.