FALMOUTH – Parents of students who attend Falmouth schools have received written notification about a rash of cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough.
Falmouth Schools Assistant Superintendent Nancy Taylor said that 17 students are currently out of school recuperating from the disease.
Pertussis is highly contagious, according to information about the disease posted on the Falmouth School System website.
Taylor said school administrators are in touch almost daily with state officials about the status of the situation at the schools.
Pertussis is a disease caused by bacteria that is easily spread from person to person. It is usually mild in older children and adults but if often causes serious problems in very young children, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Pertussis, Taylor said, cold-like symptoms but is distinctive because of the persistent and loud cough that is one of the symptoms.
Pertussis has three stages. The first includes cold-like symptoms with a runny nose, sneezing and cough. The second stage is marked by uncontrolled coughing. The finally stage is when the symptoms gradually lessen. The duration of classic pertussis is about six to 10 weeks.
The germs that cause pertussis live in the nose, mouth and throat and are sprayed into the air when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks.
Most children get a whooping cough vaccine as one of the common childhood vaccinations, but the immunization can wear off, according to health officials.
In Massachusetts, pertussis is most common among people over 10 years old who have lost the protection they get from childhood vaccines, according to state health officials.
All but one of the students who have pertussis were immunized, Taylor said. The treatment is to stay home on antibiotics for five days before returning to school, she said.
The main treatment for the disease is plenty of rest and fluids, and antibiotics. State health officials suggest that anyone who has been exposed to pertussis see a doctor for antibiotics to prevent the disease even if they have been vaccinated.
More information on pertussis can be found from the Massachusetts Department of Health Immunization Program at 617-983-6800 or toll-free at 888-658-2850 or on the Massachusetts Department of Public Health website at www.mass.gov/dph.