Pertussis flare-up plagues student body


by Kate Casey, Advertising and Business Manager

Several cases of whooping cough, an air-borne infection that can be fatal to weak immune systems, have been reported in Glen Rock schools.

Whooping cough, formally know as pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial infection that infects the respiratory system, resulting in bark-sounding cough that can last anywhere from three to ten weeks. Coughing spells can become so severe as to lead to vomiting. Other signs include cold-like symptoms, a low-grade fever, and exhaustion. Whooping cough is usually a minor illness for adolescents, but can be fatal to infants and those with weak immune systems.

Sophomore Michael Giardino was feeling sick for a month before his diagnosis with whooping cough. His symptoms came in waves, they seemed to improve but then would recede a few days later. His coughing fits were the most intense during mornings and nights, so he felt healthy enough to attend school, only missing two days.

Recently, enforcement of the high school attendance policy has increased. If a student misses more than 16 days of school, he or she may be faced with credit loss.

“Luckily I’m okay, but if I didn’t get a doctors’ note, the attendance policy would’ve affected me,” Giardino said.

Unfortunately, seventh grader Nolan Clark was not as lucky

At first, Clark’s only symptoms was light coughing, so he assumed it was only allergies. When the cough became more severe, he went to his doctor who diagnosed him with pneumonia and prescribed him and antibiotics.

Still, there were no signs of recovery. His coughing spells worsened, Clark wasn’t sleeping, he was coughing and vomiting as his fits came and went.

“I just thought he had a bad cold until he started throwing up, and I knew it was from the cough because he wasn’t showing any other signs. Then I knew this wasn’t normal,” Lyn Clark, Nolan’s mother said.

As more cases of whooping cough were reported to the schools, nurses Ms. Robin Leone and Ms. Stephanie Nerney called parents of sick students to inform them of a possible diagnosis.

“It’s difficult when people come in with a cough because we can’t distinguish, so they have to go to their doctor and get swabbed,” Leone said.

Mr. Lawrence Wolff, the Director of Student Personnel Services, sent a letter to all parents and staff notifying them of the increase in cases. It includes information on the disease and treatment recommendation.

After the Clarks received the call, they returned to the doctors to receive a nasal swab for whooping cough. When a student undergoes a nasal swab, they are required to stay under a five day quarantine.

This time, they came to the conclusion that Nolan had whooping cough. He was prescribed a Zithromax Z-Pak, an antibiotic used to treat respiratory ailments, and an inhaler. He spent the next few days resting at home, watching TV and playing video games, until he was healthy enough to return to school.

The perplexing piece of the outbreak is its unknown origin. Whooping cough is not a seasonal illness nor is it very common at any time. The TDaP pertussis booster vaccine is requirement for all incoming Glen Rock students, but still many have contracted it. The most probable reason for it is that the vaccine wears off over time.

“People are getting revaccinated because they have young children around them,” Leone said.

If you are experiencing a rough cough, it is important to visit your doctor to make sure it isn’t whooping cough. Unfortunately, over the counter cough medications are not always effective and a perception is needed for everything else.

“It’s not good, don’t get it, stay away from anyone who is coughing,” Nerney said.