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Whooping cough cases continue to hit region

Jackson County's bout with pertussis hasn't ended yet.

Two new cases of the disease commonly known as whooping cough were discovered this week, bringing to 10 the number of people who have come down with the highly contagious bacterial infection since it surfaced in early May.

To the best of our knowledge, the two new cases don't appear to be related to other cases we've had, said Viki Barbour, a Jackson County public health nurse.

Barbour said one of the new cases is a Medford resident; the other lives in a small rural community that she declined to identify in order to protect the patient's identity.

— Public health officials are bound by law to shield the identity of patients who report communicable diseases. The law is designed to encourage people to tell public health agencies about their infectious diseases without fear of being ostracized.

That policy drew criticism in May when state officials declined to identify the community where an 11-week-old infant died of pertussis. The child was eventually identified as a resident of the area around Chiloquin, a small community in Klamath County.

Some Klamath County residents contended that their right to know that a local child had died from an infectious disease overrode the child's family's right to privacy.

Pertussis can strike at any age, but it is most dangerous for infants under the age of 6 months. Parents are advised to immunize their children at 2, 4, 6 and 15 months, and again before they enter school.

Barbour said as many as 38 other Jackson County residents may have been infected with the pertussis bacteria. Those presumptive cases are determined by patients' symptoms and their links to people who have confirmed cases of pertussis.

Barbour said more cases of pertussis may surface during the coming months, because the bacteria spreads during summer as well as winter. While children are no longer concentrated in school during the summer, they will be gathering at other places, such as summer camps and swimming pools.

It could be that (the outbreak) is going to continue like this for a while and just simmer along, she said.

Public-health workers have tracked pertussis cases in Medford, Central Point, Eagle Point, White City, Jacksonville, Phoenix and Trail, but so far the disease has not surfaced in Ashland, where about 10 percent of school students have been exempted from state-required immunizations for religious or medical reasons.

I'm amazed there hasn't been some connection with Ashland, Barbour said. I guess it suggests there isn't a whole lot of commingling between Ashland and the rest of the county.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492, or e-mail