Two cases of whooping cough confirmed at schools in Randolph County

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RANDOLPH COUNTY, N.C. — Two cases of pertussis – also known “whooping cough” — were confirmed at two different schools in Randolph County.

Health officials said one case was confirmed at Southeastern Randolph Middle School in Ramseur and the other at Coleridge Elementary School in Coleridge.

Health Department Director Mimi Cooper tells FOX8 the cases were connected, but for privacy reasons she could not elaborate on how the students were related.

"The great thing about what we’re dealing with here is children in schools are protected from pertussis unless they have a religious or medical exemption," she pointed out. Infants and adults with compromised immune systems are also at risk if they haven't been vaccinated, Cooper said.

"Originally pertussis vaccinations were so effective they lasted nearly a whole lifetime, but they had a lot of bad side effects," Cooper explained. "Over the years, the pertussis vaccine has changed in that it’s much easier to take, much fewer side effects. But the protection doesn’t stay with us for a lifetime. We need boosters along the way."

Cooper said the students in both of these active cases had been vaccinated in the past, but she said the effectiveness of the vaccine wanes over time. Cooper says that's why boosters are so important and required by state law in kindergarten and seventh grades.

Dr. Kathleen Riley with Randolph Medical Associates in Asheboro advises parents not to panic. "Every runny nose, every cough is not pertussis. Pertussis is often accompanied by fever. But what we’re really looking for is a very persistent cough, a barking or a whooping. What they call truly a whooping cough."

Both cases were confirmed Tuesday afternoon around the time that school ended, according to Randolph County School System Public Information Officer Tim Moody.

A letter from the Randolph County Health Department was sent home with every child at the end of the school day on Wednesday, according to the school system.

A phone message was sent to the homes of every child at both schools Tuesday night to alert parents.

Moody said they could not get the letter out Tuesday because the cases were not confirmed until the end of the school day.

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing that may last for weeks. It can live on surfaces such as desks, but it's nearly always spread through direct contact like coughing and sneezing.

"Everybody should cough not into their hands but into the crook of your arms to cover the cough! And not sharing drinks with friends at all," Dr. Riley reminds.

Two Davidson County students were treated for pertussis in May. Wednesday was the vaccination deadline for several school districts in the Piedmont, including Tdap booster vaccines.

Dr. Riley added, "It’s right at the time where everybody had to finally have their shots, but there were probably still a few children who were not immunized yet. So it’s a very delicate time. It’s also a time where kids who were just recently immunized may not have their immunity yet."

Click here to read the letter that Southeast Randolph Middle School sent out.