Second declared outbreak of whooping cough near Tucson keeps kids home from school

TUCSON, AZ - Pima County health officials declared a second outbreak of whooping cough in Vail School District southeast of Tucson, and health officials banned unvaccinated children from one school for at least two weeks.

Officials said students at Sycamore Elementary School who get vaccinated against the highly contagious disease can come back in two weeks. But those still without their shots may not be allowed back in school for three weeks or more.

The Arizona Daily Star reports five students at Sycamore recently contracted the disease. The 10,000-student Vail district has had 18 confirmed cases this year.

Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Francisco Garcia issued the school ban order after a third case of whooping cough was confirmed. Two more cases were confirmed late Tuesday, bringing the total number at that school to five.

Whooping, also called pertussis, typically isn't life-threatening for teens and healthy adults, but it can kill infants and people with weak immune systems. One or two Arizona infants die of whooping cough each year.

Countywide, confirmed cases are up significantly -- 71 already for 2013, compared to 46 for all of 2012. Garcia issued the same stay-home directive to unvaccinated students at Empire High School in Vail after three whooping cough cases were confirmed there last month. Cases have also been confirmed at six other district schools.

"Obviously we are very concerned for the students at Empire, but the younger the age the more severe the complications can be," Pima County Health Department spokesman Aaron Pacheco said. "That is our main concern with Sycamore, because it's an elementary school."

At least three of the Vail students who have tested positive for pertussis were unvaccinated, health department officials say.

Vail pediatrician Dr. Christopher Hickie said he was troubled by a recent increase in parents who don't want their children to be vaccinated.

Hickie said this is the first year since he began his Vail practice in 2004 that he's known of area children, including some of his patients, testing positive for pertussis. On Oct. 8 he banned unvaccinated children from his practice.

"I don't want an unvaccinated child infecting a newborn in my waiting room with whooping cough," Hickie said. "My biggest concern is that the longer we have it out here, the more likely we are going to see it spread to younger children, who are at much greater risk of getting extremely ill or dying of it, especially newborns."

Through September, Arizona health officials have counted more than 1,000 confirmed or suspected cases, compared with 863 in the same time in 2012.

Nationally, 48,277 cases of whooping cough were reported last year, the highest number reported in the U.S. since 1955.

Print this article Back to Top

Comments