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Pertussis confirmed in county

The disease, commonly known as whooping cough, can be fatel among infants and is serious in people who have not been vaccinated

Two cases of pertussis have been confirmed in Jackson County over the past three weeks, and physicians have identified 35 more people with symptoms that strongly suggest they have the disease commonly known as whooping cough.

One confirmed case is a person over age 70 who lives in Jacksonville; the other is a teenager from Ashland, said Viki Brown, a Jackson County public health nurse.

All of the presumptive cases live in Ashland. Brown said they have symptoms of pertussis, but laboratory tests have not yet confirmed that they have been infected by the Bordetella pertussis bacterium.

Public health officials are concerned about an outbreak in Ashland because many children there have not been vaccinated against childhood diseases such as pertussis. In 2001, for example, about 10 percent of Ashland children were not vaccinated against childhood diseases, compared to about — percent for Jackson County overall and 2.7 percent statewide.

Pertussis is often more severe in people who have not been vaccinated.

— She said many of the likely cases are young people of middle-school or high-school age, but some are adults. Public health officials are trying to contact people who may have been exposed to the bacterium to make sure they receive treatment if they become ill.

We've been talking to a lot of people, she said. We're trying to do the work up front to prevent it from spreading.

People typically have to spend six to eight hours in close proximity with an infected person to contract pertussis. The bacteria that cause the disease float on microscopic water droplets that are expelled from the lungs when an infected person coughs. The disease spreads when someone else inhales those droplets and the bacteria enter the lungs.

Pertussis usually begins with symptoms that mimic the common cold, but the cough persists and becomes more severe, with episodes of rapid coughing followed by a high-pitched whoop while gasping for breath.

Whooping cough can strike anyone, but it hits infants hardest, and it can be fatal if pneumonia develops. Seventy percent of all fatalities are in infants under the age of six months. In adults who do not seek treatment, it can persist for months.

Pertussis is generally a rare disease because most parents immunize their children against it. Outbreaks tend to be sporadic and localized, but a reservoir of the bacteria often persists to seed new cases.

Jackson County had a significant outbreak of pertussis in 2003, when 140 cases were recorded. There were just three recorded cases during the three years before the outbreak, and just four in 2004.

Lane and Klamath counties also saw significant numbers of whooping cough cases in 2003, and an 11-week-old Klamath County infant died. Benton County had 209 cases in 2004, but just 17 during the previous four years.

Brown noted that at least one pertussis case has been identified within recent weeks in both Josephine and Douglas counties.

Reach reporter Bill Kettlerat 776-4492, or e-mail