School and public-health officials are warning Petersburg residents about pertussis, also known as whooping cough.
The school district sent a letter to parents Tuesday saying only one case has been confirmed so far. But it said that student has several siblings who have been exposed to the highly-contagious respiratory illness and it could spread.
The bacterial infection causes frequent, intense coughing, often accompanied by vomiting. It’s most dangerous to babies, infants and pregnant women.
Petersburg public health nurse Erin Michael said residents can take precautions to limit its spread.
“If you are coughing or sneezing, good cough etiquette is really important. Making sure you’re coughing or sneezing into your elbow. Really hand hygiene is important,” she said.
She added that pertussis is sometimes confused with a cold, the flu or other respiratory illnesses. Cases can only be confirmed by medical tests. But the “whoop” sound that accompanies the cough is an important indicator.
Michael said pertussis symptoms should not be ignored.
“It is something that can linger for some people, as far as signs and symptoms. So ideally, you want to avoid it and prevent it rather than get it if you can. Because it can put some people out of commission for quite a while. Some people, it can be 10 weeks or more,” she said.
Petersburg is one of several Alaska communities with identified cases of whooping cough.
Michael said vaccinations are an important tool to halt its spread. Antibiotics can shorten the illness.
State health officials said infected students should stay home for five days after starting the medication. They should remain out of school for three weeks if they don’t take antibiotics.
The state reports Alaska had 106 cases in 2015, the last year with records available. Only one was from Southeast.