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Wednesday, October 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Idaho Officials Struggle With Pertussis Outbreak

An ongoing investigation of the region’s whooping cough outbreak confirmed the first cases in Spokane and Benewah counties on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Panhandle Health District is struggling to find enough nurses, phones and affordable medication to handle the outbreak that’s climbed to 75 cases in North Idaho.

“We’re starting to reach out to the community for support now,” said Jeanne Bock, the health district’s director of family and community health.

Bock requested nurses from the Central Idaho health district, so that public health nurses testing for pertussis - known as whooping cough - wouldn’t also be giving immunizations to infants.

“We can’t risk putting those nurses (doing tests) near the unprotected,” Bock said.

The outbreak spans generations, from a 6-week-old baby to a 55-year-old adult. Three children have been hospitalized at Kootenai Medical Center with pertussis.

KMC has asked that people exposed to pertussis or with its symptoms refrain from visiting patients at the hospital.

Several children who attend KinderCare day-care center in the Spokane Valley were undergoing tests after two 7-year-old Post Falls boys who attend the day-care came down with pertussis last week.

On Tuesday, an 8-year-old boy who also attends KinderCare was confirmed to have pertussis. He’s the first Spokane County resident reported with the disease this year.

“It’s something I suspected would come up eventually,” said Paul Stepak, Spokane County epidemiologist.

Most of the cases, 64, are in Kootenai County. Another seven cases have been discovered in Shoshone County, three cases in Bonner County, and Tuesday a 25-year-old woman from Benewah County also was confirmed to have the disease.

North Idaho health officials became aware of the pertussis outbreak after the death of a 2-month-old Post Falls boy about two weeks ago.

The boy’s death was the first caused by pertussis in Idaho in at least 17 years.

Now Spokane Regional Health District is also in the business of tracking down contacts of pertussis victims.

“Two things acted in our favor,” Stepak said. “One; it was spring break, so the child was not in his regular school. Other than the day-care setting, he was not involved in a lot of other activities.”

Secondly, he said, most of the child’s contacts at the day-care were already undergoing testing or being placed on antibiotics since late last week.

In North Idaho, many people who need to be on antibiotics can’t afford them, Bock said.

The health district has requested $2,000 from the Idaho Board of Health to cover medication for lowincome people, but it may not be enough.

The district also needs help with testing. Today, people who have been exposed to pertussis and have the symptoms can be tested at the district office between 1 and 5 p.m.

Symptoms include watery eyes, runny nose and a persistent cough. People with those symptoms should wash their hands frequently and avoid contact with young children, health officials said.

The disease is spread by ill people coughing or sneezing close to other people, or otherwise sharing their germs.

“The symptoms are so similar to other minor respiratory illnesses, colds, allergies, a smokers cough…” Bock said.

A swab test during the early stages of the disease is the only way to be sure whether it’s pertussis or not. It’s treated with antibiotics.

Untreated, pertussis can result in a prolonged cough, and in young children it can cause a severe illness and can sometimes be fatal.

North Idaho Immediate Care has donated 30 free office visits for pertussis testing. Vouchers for the visits are available at the health district.

In Spokane County, the health district has advised people to consult their health care provider or the district if they suspect they’ve been exposed to pertussis.

, DataTimes MEMO: IDAHO HEADLINE: Health district struggles with pertussis outbreak

IDAHO HEADLINE: Health district struggles with pertussis outbreak

Wordcount: 626
Tags: epidemic

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