PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Whooping cough in the Shaler Area School District is sounding an alarm.

Out of an abundance of caution, Superintendent Wesley Shipley has issued a letter to parents.

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“There is one confirmed case of a student at Shaler, so this is not an outbreak,” reassures Dr. Michael Gronostaj of the Allegheny County Health Department.

The County Health Department is aware of the situation. They helped draft the letter. They’re focusing on awareness and education for families in the Shaler School District.

“About the signs to look for, about vaccination, about covering your mouth when you cough,” Dr. Gronostaj continues.

“They cough, cough, cough, and then sort of have this horrible whoop afterwards,” Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh pediatric infectious diseases specialist Dr. Marian Michaels demonstrates.

The student was kept home from school.

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“Someone with pertussis has to be on antibiotics for five days before returning to school,” says Dr. Gronostaj.

“When we see one case of whooping cough, we know there’s a lot more cases out there. They’re just not being diagnosed,” says Dr. Michaels.

Antibiotics can be helpful for preventing illness in close contacts and for reducing the airborne spread of this bacterial illness.

“The antibiotic probably doesn’t do a lot to treat the person, but it does prevent spread,” Dr. Michaels explains.

It is also easily preventable with a childhood vaccine and a booster in adolescence because protection can wear off.

“Whooping cough can cause decreased oxygen to the brain and can cause brain damage,” Dr. Michaels warns. “When [parents] choose not to vaccinate, they’re putting their child at great risk. I had a family this past fall. Three children of theirs were hospitalized, one in the intensive care unit with the tube down to breathe for them. I mean, my heart broke for this family.”

To confirm a case, doctors will do a throat swab and send it for testing for genetic particles from the bacteria that cause whooping cough. Just in the past year, the county has had 220 cases, when usually it has fewer than 100.

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