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April 1, 2010

DHEC investigating Aiken pertussis cases

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Pertussis disease, commonly known as whooping cough, continues to circulate in Aiken County schools and communities, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported today.

“We’ve identified eight cases since February 24. In the previous two years, there has only been one case of pertussis in Aiken County,” said M. H. Niemeyer, M.D., medical director of DHEC’s Region 5 public health office, which serves Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Calhoun and Orangeburg counties. “We’re working closely with school officials to notify the staff and parents of students who were potentially exposed. It is very important for parents to follow the instructions sent home with their children who attend the involved schools.

“We’re also advising health care providers of the situation and encouraging them to consider pertussis when evaluating patients with cough illnesses, as all pertussis cases are reportable to us,” she said.

Dr. Niemeyer said whooping cough is a highly contagious disease that usually starts with flu-like symptoms, such as runny nose, sneezing, and a mild cough. These symptoms often are followed by severe coughing fits that may be associated with vomiting. Coughing spells might last for several weeks. Fever, if present, is usually mild.

“The name comes from the ‘whoop’ sound children and adults sometimes make when they try to breathe during a severe coughing spell,” Dr. Niemeyer said. “Pertussis can occur at any age, but infants and young children are at highest risk for life-threatening complications such as pneumonia. In adolescents and adults, rib fractures and difficulty sleeping may occur with severe coughing episodes.”

According to Dr. Niemeyer, it is routinely recommended, and required for school attendance, that children get five doses of DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccine: one dose at 2 mos., 4 mos., 6 mo., 15-18 mo., and 4-6 years of age.

“Now is a good time for underimmunized children to have booster doses updated,” she said. “The new Tdap vaccine is available for adolescents and adults. However, even fully vaccinated people might get a milder form of the disease.”

Dr. Niemeyer said pertussis is treatable with antibiotics. It is also important to identify people with no symptoms who have had prolonged close contact with cases so that they can be given antibiotics to prevent them from developing the disease. This will help contain the outbreak. Anyone who thinks they or their children might have pertussis, or have been exposed to someone with pertussis, should contact their health care provider.

For more information about pertussis, call Veleta Rudnick of DHEC’s Aiken County Public Health Department at (803) 642-1618 or visit DHEC’s Web site at:


For more information:
Veleta Rudnick - (803) 642-1618
E-mail -
Adam Myrick - (803) 898-3884
E-mail -