MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Health officials in Berkeley and Morgan counties in the Eastern Panhandle and Hancock County in the state's Northern Panhandle are investigating outbreaks of whooping cough.
Berkeley County Health Officer Diana Gaviria told the Berkeley County Council Thursday morning that they have documented 11 confirmed cases of pertussis among preschool and school-age children since November.
"Fortunately, it doesn't seem to be showing any antibiotic resistance, it's easily treated," Gaviria said in an interview after the council meeting.
Margie Allgyer, administrator of the Morgan County Health Department, said officials there have confirmed five cases since mid-December.
While Gaviria said county health officials have documented sporadic cases of whooping cough each year, the outbreak of the bacterial illness is the first since Gaviria began working for the county health department about seven years ago.
Symptoms of the contagious illness include short, intense coughing spells, followed by a gasp for air, which produces a "whoop" sound.
"So far, we don't have any confirmed adult cases as part of this outbreak," Gaviria said.
But some of the milder cases are not being treated, so individuals might be unknowingly spreading it, Gaviria said.
Altogether, 38 cases of pertussis have been confirmed or are probable in the three counties, according to an advisory Gaviria said was issued by the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health.
Health officials are recommending that parents be sure that their children's vaccinations are up to date especially for the diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis series, or DTaP.
Gaviria said the health department has booster vaccine available for adolescents and adults and encouraged individuals to contact the agency and ask for the best time available for vaccination.
The Berkeley County Health Department holds its immunization clinic on Monday from 1 to 3:30 p.m., but other arrangements can be made, Gaviria said.
The county health department has been working with school officials during the outbreak and offered vaccination to school staff members, Gaviria said.
Allgyer said the health department extended its hours in December and credited the agency's staff for taking a proactive response to the outbreak, which she said has appeared to be on the decline since the beginning of the year.
Primarily spread by coughing, the first symptoms of pertussis are similar to having a cold, but there might be a slight fever, sneezing, runny nose, dry cough, loss of appetite and irritability, according to the public health bureau.
In the second stage of the illness, the cough becomes more intense and there may be short, intense coughing spells followed by a long gasp for air. The infected individual's face might turn blue, the nose might bleed and vomiting could occur following a coughing spell.
Antibiotics are given to make the illness less contagious, but they do not reduce the symptoms unless given very early in the illness, according to health officials.
Additional information about vaccination for pertussis can be obtained by contacting the Berkeley County Health Department at 304-263-5131 or the Morgan County Health Department at 304-258-1513.