Investigators from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be in North Idaho next week studying the recent whooping cough outbreak that killed a Post Falls infant.
“They come in peace,” said Panhandle Health District nursing supervisor Marie Rau. “They’re trying to help us learn more about why this happened.”
The team will first examine the health district’s response to the outbreak, and then will spend two weeks contacting pertussis victims.
The health district’s own follow-up investigation of the outbreak found that out of the more than 200 cases that were reported initially, only 158 were confirmed to have pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough.
According to CDC criteria, a pertussis victim who does not have a positive pertussis culture and doesn’t cough for two full weeks is not considered to have pertussis.
“We feel they weren’t sick long enough because we were right on top of it with our controls,” Rau said.
The health district tested thousands of children and adults during the outbreak. All people who had contact with pertussis patients, and pertussis patients themselves, were placed on antibiotics.
Of the 158 confirmed cases, 74 were fully immunized against pertussis, said Fazle Khan, immunization specialist with the Idaho Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention.
The high number of immunized cases baffled Khan, he said. Khan said he hopes the CDC investigation can help explain why so many immunized children got sick.
While no adult vaccine exists for pertussis, experimental booster vaccines are undergoing clinical studies.
Since the 1980s, the incidence of pertussis has been increasing nationwide. The increase is greatest among children age 5 and older. One of the explanations is waning immunity in the adolescent and adult population.
Low immunization rates may be one reason that the pertussis disease took hold and infected so many immunized children.
North Idaho isn’t unique in having low immunization rates, while it is unique in having frequent outbreaks.
The frequent outbreaks and the death of a 2-month-old Post Falls boy in March drew the attention of the CDC, Khan said.
“In this day and age, you do not expect a child to die from this disease,” he said.
The CDC investigative team will be contacting people who had pertussis as well as people who were in contact with pertussis cases, Rau said.
“We have a chance to learn some things,” Rau said. “If we don’t learn it, at least we can teach.”
A statewide plan for handling pertussis outbreaks could result from the CDC study, Khan said.
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