McHenry County’s whopping cough outbreak this school year was unprecedented, but county and state health officials hope it won’t be repeated thanks to a new vaccine requirement taking effect this fall.
The Illinois State Department of Health issued a requirement for students entering sixth or ninth grades requiring a one-time “booster” vaccine for Pertussis, or whopping cough. The Illinois State Superintendent of Education endorsed the requirement. Students must have an appointment to get the vaccine or have an approved medical or religious exemption.
McHenry County was hit particularly hard by the outbreak with 336 confirmed cases reported from August 2011 to April 2012, said Debra Quackenbush, Community Information Coordinator/PIO for the McHenry County Department of Health. More than half of the cases involved children 10 years or younger and two infants were briefly hospitalized, according to health department statistics.
Earlier this month, Consolidated School District 158 confirmed two cases at Marlowe Middle School in Lake in the Hills and one at Leggee Elementary School in Huntley.
The last significant outbreak in McHenry County was in 2004 with 191 cases, Quakenbush said. Eight years later, the outbreak was repeated but the numbers were double, she said.
Kane County reported 33 cases as of April 23, health department officials reported.
The Illinois Department of Public Health recommended students get a booster shot, a Tdap, at age 11, said Melaney Arnold, IDPH spokeswoman. A Tdap is now a requirement for the 2012-2013 school year, she said.
“We are trying to catch some of the older students,” Arnold said.
Whooping cough outbreaks tend to be cyclical, she said. The outbreaks have occurred about every eight years. The new requirement should help prevent or subdue future outbreaks, officials said.
What officials want the public to keep in mind is whopping cough is an illness that can be controlled through a booster shot. Parents may not have been aware of the booster shot or may have chosen not to have their child vaccinated, she said.
“We shouldn’t be seeing this,” Quackenbush said.
A majority of childhood vaccinations last for a lifetime but scientists began discovering that the whooping cough vaccine had no staying power, Quackenbush said. Children and teens no longer were protected against the illness, she said.
Older children who did not receive booster shots may infect young children, which can be dangerous for babies, since children under 1 year old can not be vaccinated for whooping cough, she said.
McHenry County’s cases followed that scenario, she said. The outbreaks started among high school aged children who had younger siblings, she said. There were entire families diagnosed with whooping cough, she said.
McHenry health officials continue getting reports. The department had been getting 20 to 30 cases a week and usually gets 10 a month, Quackenbush said. The numbers are going down but it’s not to say there won’t be another outbreak, she said.