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School district issues pertussis alert

The River Falls School District sent notification to all parents in the district on Friday, June 1, saying the Pierce County Health Department has confirmed three cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, in students from three local schools: Rocky Branch Elementary, Meyer Middle and the high school.

The message says, "We are making all all parent/guardians in the School District aware of this confirmation and also want to share information with you regarding this contagious disease and its symptoms."

Pertussis can affect people of any age and is characterized by a persistent, uncontrollable cough, generally with no fever. The PCHD says on an informational flyer that the cough is often sudden and uncontrollable, with the spells becoming less frequent over time as the lungs heal.

Vomiting sometimes follows the coughing spells, and children may make a high-pitched whooping sound as they gasp for breath after coughing.

An afflicted person usually appears well other than the coughing spells. To test for the persistent-cough illness, doctors take a swab of the patient's nasal passage then analyze the bacteria; only people with symptoms should have the test.

When a person is diagnosed, they should stay away from work or school until after they've taken antibiotics for five days. Pertussis spreads through droplets released when a person sneezes or coughs; the droplets don't generally travel far.

Without antibiotic treatment, the illness is generally communicable for up to three weeks after the coughing starts.

PCHD advised people there is a "routine childhood vaccine" for pertussis. Health experts now recommend a booster shot for adolescents and adults.

People can contact the PCHD with questions at 715-273-6755; the School District Nurse, Kathy Moody, at 715-425-1830 ext. 1116, or the Director of Student Services, Jackie Steinhoff, at 715-425-1800 ext. 1115.