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Public Health Update Regarding Whooping Cough Cases At Brookline High School

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Public Health and Human Services Director Sigalle Reiss and Superintendent of the Public Schools of Brookline Superintendent Linus J. Guillory, Jr. wish to provide an update to the community regarding cases of Pertussis, often known as whooping cough, at Brookline High School.
 
The risk of public infection for whooping cough remains extremely low, and this update is being provided both out of an abundance of caution and in an effort to report to the community, in a transparent matter, the work being done between the Public Schools of Brookline and Brookline Public Health and Human Services.
 
On June 5, 2024, Brookline High School notified the Department of Public Health and Human Services of a positive case of whooping cough at the high school. At that time, the Public Schools of Brookline, in coordination with the Department of Public Health and Human Services, notified all families and provided guidance to Brookline High School and the Runkle School, where one additional case was identified.
 
At this time, 15 total cases have been identified in the Town of Brookline.
 
Pertussis is a bacterial infection that affects the lungs and a person’s breathing. It is easily spread from person to person and, while usually mild in older children and adults, can often cause serious illness in very young children and infants. Pertussis can be spread by droplets from the nose, mouth and throat and can be sprayed into the air when a person coughs, sneezes or talks. The first symptoms appear about 7-10 days after a person is exposed.
 
“At this time, we feel that the public health risk is low, however with the school year ending, we feel it is important to update the community about the situation and steps our residents can take to avoid exposure to Pertussis and other illnesses,” Director Reiss said. 

Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against pertussis. Make sure you and your children are up to date on pertussis shots. The pertussis vaccine for children less than seven years old is called DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) and the pertussis vaccine for children ages seven and older, adolescents and adults is called Tdap. Tdap is required for all Massachusetts students entering Grade 7.
 
Tdap vaccine is also recommended for adults every 10 years as immunity can wane over time. Pregnant individuals should get the Tdap vaccine during the third trimester of each pregnancy (after 27 weeks). Pertussis is very harmful to babies, so anyone who may be around a newborn should get a pertussis vaccination to help protect the baby. 

While vaccination is the best prevention against diseases like Pertussis, it does not provide absolute prevention. At Brookline High School, 99% of seniors are vaccinated against whooping cough.
 
Pertussis progresses in three phases, starting with cold-like symptoms like runny nose, sneezing, and cough that last for one to two weeks and slowly worsen, followed by strong, uncontrolled coughing spells that can be accompanied by a “whooping” noise during inhalation. Severe coughing spells may impede breathing, causing a person to become blue in the face due to lack of oxygen (hypoxia). In between coughing spells, a person will typically appear well. Pertussis symptoms can last up to 6-10 weeks in total.
 
Antibiotic treatment is generally recommended. People with pertussis are infectious one week before until three weeks after the cough starts or until completion of five days of antibiotic treatment.
 
This situation continues to evolve and the Town of Brookline will continue to monitor cases and contacts as additional information is identified. For more information on pertussis, visit here or here. For questions about symptoms, exposure, and testing, please contact your healthcare provider. For additional questions, please contact the Brookline Public Health Nurse at 617-730-2320
 
Guidelines: What to do if you are exposed to pertussis
 
If you have been exposed to someone with pertussis and develop symptoms:

  • Call your doctor, mention this advisory, and ask to be assessed and tested for pertussis
  • If your doctor is concerned for pertussis, they will likely perform testing to confirm the diagnosis and prescribe a five day course of antibiotics. Stay home from school, camp, work, and all other activities until five days of antibiotic therapy have been completed. After five days of antibiotics are complete, you may return to community activities, even if pertussis results are not back yet
  • If your doctor says you do not have pertussis, you can attend all regular activities

If you have been exposed to someone with pertussis and are not coughing, but have a weakened immune system and/or live with a high-risk individual (a high-risk individual is a baby who is younger than one year of age, anyone who is in the third trimester of pregnancy, or anyone with a weakened immune system)

  • Request preventive antibiotics from your doctor so you do not get sick and so you do not spread the illness to other people
  • You do not need to stay home from school, camp, work, and other regular activities

If you have been exposed to someone with pertussis, are not coughing and do not have a weakened immune system and do not live with a high-risk individual

  • Watch for symptoms of pertussis for three weeks
  • Preventive antibiotics are not recommended unless you develop symptoms
  • You do not need to stay home from school, camp, work, and other regular activities unless you develop symptoms

A doctor may think a patient has pertussis based on their symptoms, but a lab test is the only way to confirm diagnosis for sure. A culture is taken by swabbing the back of the nose and sending the sample to the lab for testing.