No cough drop yet

18 cases confirmed in Soldotna area

Posted: Thursday, August 18, 2005

The number of confirmed cases of pertussis in Soldotna has grown to 18, according to the state Division of Public Health in Anchorage.

Last week, the division reported 10 people with the illness — also know as whooping cough — including five at the Heritage Place nursing facility.

"We have 18 confirmed cases," said Dr. Beth Funk, acting chief of the epidemiology section.

"Six are confirmed through lab testing and the others are clinical cases," she said, explaining the infected people have all the symptoms of pertussis and have been in contact with someone with the illness.

Funk said nine of the 18 cases are related to Heritage Place, including one contract employee who worked there and a child who is related to a nursing home worker.

Five of the cases reported last week were all members of one Soldotna family.

"In my opinion, I don't believe it's isolated to the nursing home and that one family," Funk said.

"That's not the way it works."

Characterized by a convulsive cough, gagging, vomiting and a whoop sound when inhaling, the bacterial infection can be treated with the antibiotic Zithromax, according to a bulletin from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

The drug also is used in a pill form as the preventative for whooping cough.

All residents and staff members at Heritage have been treated with Zithromax.

"Everything's kind of back to normal at Heritage Place," Christine Sutton, director of nursing, said Monday.

"We're back open to visitors," she said.

Officials at Heritage Place, which has 53 residents and 96 staff members, said a Soldotna physician first found a patient with confirmed pertussis, and others with similar symptoms were screened for the illness.

"Pertussis is not usually screened for," Heritage Place Administrator Dennis Murray said last week.

Symptoms are very similar to those of a common cold, so the infection easily masks itself, he said.

The illness is transmitted when the ill person coughs around others. The most infectious time is the beginning stage of the disease. After about three weeks, people are almost never contagious.

The persistent cough lasts for several weeks, even months.

The state recommends that people with symptoms of pertussis not go to work, school or day care, and they should remain isolated from others until taking appropriate antibiotics for at least five full days.

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