Local schools in the Indianapolis-metro area are reporting large numbers of student and teacher absences, mostly as a result of the flu or a strain of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, that has been confirmed by the Center for Disease Control to be making its way across the Midwest.
According to a report from St.Vincent Hospital, an average of 36,000 Americans die; and more than 200,000 are hospitalized from serious flu-related complications. At the same time, the CDC stated in a December Surveillance Trend Report that the number of whooping cough patients has slowly risen since 1990, with the last two years seeing a nearly 10 percent increase.
Noblesville Schools Spokeswoman Marnie Cooke said the district has not been notified of any confirmed cases of whooping cough, but that if they were they “have cleaning and communication procedures in place.”
Westfield Washington Schools Supt. Dr. Mark Keen also said his district is not dealing with any cases of whooping cough to their knowledge but the flu has seemed worse this year.
“We have had a higher than normal number of absences at a couple of schools,” he said, adding protocols are in place for a viral outbreak. “In every instance, our procedure is to work with the Hamilton County Health Dept. and follow whatever directions and procedures they give to us. They’re the experts.”
Dr. Tracey R. Ikerd, medical director of infection control at Riverview Health, said the hospital is not experiencing any specific outbreaks associated with pertussis at this time. He added that Riverview Health has policies and protocols in place to protect patients and staff members from infection.
“If a patient arrives at a doctor’s office or the hospital with a cough, they should wear a mask,” he said. “The staff treating the patient is also instructed to wear a mask. If a patient has confirmed pertussis, contact and droplet isolation precautions would be initiated; meaning anyone entering the patient’s room would wear a gown, gloves and a mask. In addition, hand hygiene would be performed before and after patient contact.”
Apart from vaccination and encouraging booster shots for pertussis, one thing local hospitals, such as St.Vincent, are doing to prevent the spread of these illnesses is restricting visitors in hospital rooms and telling patients to stay home from school or work if they exhibit any signs of illness.
“By temporarily restricting visitors, we can help limit the spread of influenza, and continue to provide exceptional care to our patients,” stated Dr. Richard Fogel, chief clinical officer at St.Vincent.
Dr. Michael Tsangaris, pediatric pulmonologist for Riley Children’s Specialists at IU Hospital North, encourages families with new babies at home to take extra precautions.
“Ask visitors if they’ve experienced a lingering cough that’s lasted for two or more months – this could be a sign of pertussis. For anyone who wants to hold the baby, insist that they wash their hands,” he said.
Although expectant mothers receive a TDaP booster as part of routine prenatal care, he encourages new fathers to take the same preventative measure.
“Whooping cough doesn’t really have a season; exercise caution throughout the year,” he said.
- Vaccination is the single best way to protect against the flu and pertussis. In addition, Indiana residents should follow the recommendations below to prevent the spread of illness:
- Stay home from work, school, travel and social gatherings for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or other necessities.
- Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid kissing, hugging and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick.
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.
Source: St.Vincent Hospitals