HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (STWM/WBBM) – Administrators of North Shore School District 112 have implemented extra precautions in each building after a large cluster of whooping cough cases were identified among middle school students.

The district serves the communities of Highland Park, Highwood and Fort Sheridan.

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Stephanie Charrlin, the district’s health services facilitator, said Monday that 17 cases of pertussis have been documented this school year. There was only one reported case last year.

Pertussis, the medical term for whooping cough, is a specific, highly contagious bacterial illness that can cause uncontrollable, violent coughing that can make breathing difficult.

“Children are vaccinated for it when very young and receive a booster later, but it’s not a lifetime immunity and it wanes over time,” Charrlin said.

She pointed to several reasons for the recent upsurge in the disease: Increased reporting by doctors and the Lake County Health Department; the emerging conclusion that the adolescent pertussis booster is not as effective as once thought; and a higher rate of children carrying and passing along the bacteria strain even though they may not show symptoms.

“Even some of the kids who (got the booster) are still getting pertussis,” Charrlin said. “It’s not as effective as the manufacturers thought, or the bacteria could be adapting to the booster.”

The local incidence of pertussis peaked in late October and November, Charrlin said.

Although whooping cough is not as feared as the H1N1 flu virus that caused thousands to flock to vaccination clinics throughout Lake County, District 112 has implemented some of the same communication and prevention strategies it used during that scare.

“Whenever there is an increase or cluster of any type of illness, we treat them basically the same,” Charrlin said.

The district has sent e-mails and letters to parents notifying them of the increase, placed hand-washing signs in all bathrooms, installed hand sanitizers in each school, and has notified teachers and nurses to be cognizant of students who have whooping cough symptoms.

DuPage County has also reported about 50 cases of whooping cough. The health department urges residents that if they or anyone in their families exhibits any of the symptoms of pertussis, to contact their doctor.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. WBBM contributed to this report.)

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