Headline — 25 September 2012 — by Aaron Humes
Whooping cough scare!

Six cases reported in Springfield

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Sept. 24, 2012

A small community south of Belmopan is facing a big problem, after six suspected cases of pertussis (also known as “whooping cough”) were reported earlier this month.

The community of Springfield in the Cayo District, located between the nation’s capital and the village of Armenia, reported suspected cases in five children – one of whom was as young as six months old and had to be hospitalized – and one adult, to the Ministry of Health on September 3.

The disease, which is highly contagious and can be fatal to babies less than a year old, is caused by a bacterium and gets its name from the ‘whooping’ sound a patient makes as he/she tries to breathe and recover from violent and uncontrollable coughing. It most commonly affects infants and young children and is characterized by severe coughing episodes, difficulty breathing that results in a “whooping noise” and vomiting when coughing.

A press release from the Ministry released on Thursday reports that immediately, a response team was deployed to Springfield for field visits to conduct multidisciplinary surveillance and “to identify suspected cases, trace contacts, collect specimens, and provide onsite treatment and health education to community members on early identification, notification and preventive measures” for the disease.

Ministry spokeswoman Claudette Dakers-Norales told Amandala this afternoon that it will take about another week for the specimens sent to the Caribbean Epidemiology Center (CAREC) in Trinidad and Tobago for laboratory confirmation to be returned and confirmed results announced. The Ministry has yet to identify where the infection came from, she said, and continues its investigations.

There have been no other reported cases in the area or elsewhere in the country, Norales said, and to prevent further spread in Springfield, the Ministry’s field teams are conducting daily education in the area in addition to having provided treatment to the victims – a ten-day course of the antibiotic erythromycin.

The disease has a vaccine and those who receive it do not suffer so severely if they catch it. The vaccine is offered in one of two combinations, the DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) and pentavalent (the DPT, Hepatitis B and Hib) and according to the Ministry, is free and administered to young children at 2, 4 and 6 months of age and again at age 4.

But after checking with the medical professionals in Springfield, Dakers-Norales told Amandala that according to their records, none of the six persons infected were ever vaccinated for whooping cough.

The Ministry asks those with the above listed symptoms to report to the nearest health center. Symptoms usually develop about 7 to 10 days after exposure and can be transmitted during the flu-like stage and after two weeks at the beginning of the violent coughing stage.

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