Health officials told parents at two schools in Cherokee County to "rush" their child to the doctor if they had cold or cough symptoms after having diagnosed whooping cough in two students.
Families whose children visit the Free Home Elementary School and Creekland Middle School in Canton received letters this week pointing out that the students may have been exposed to the highly contagious disease. One student at each of the schools was diagnosed with whooping cough or pertussis that spreads in the air when a sick person sneezes or coughs.
The two Cherokee students are siblings and were vaccinated for pertussis, officials said. No additional cases have been reported in the schools, but parents are advised to seek medical help immediately if children show symptoms before 14 February.
According to the Georgian Ministry of Health, the state does not experience an unusually high number of cases of whooping cough. However, experts have said that there has been a nationwide resurgence of cases in recent years because the vaccine has changed and the cough is less effective over time.
The school districts of Gwinnett and DeKalb have each reported two cases this school year. The schools in Fulton reported a case in August and not since. Atlanta Public Schools reported no cases.
Preliminary data show about 210 cases of whooping cough in Georgia last year.
Nationwide, there has been an increase in whooping cough in recent decades, although the number of cases reported at the beginning of the 20th century is well over 100,000.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012), most cases of whooping cough (48,277) have been recorded in the United States since 1955. In the last final figures in 2017, 18,975 cases were reported.
The higher number of cases is due to the conversion of another vaccine, which is safer, but whose effectiveness diminishes over time. Walter Orenstein, Professor and Deputy Director of the Emory Vaccine Center.
Therefore, he said it was important to get a booster to increase immunity.
In Georgia, children who go to child care and to school need to be vaccinated. Since 2014, children who are in seventh grade must have refresher shots against whooping cough and other illnesses.
It is not common, but still possible, to get whooping cough, "even if they are properly vaccinated," said Jennifer King, spokeswoman for the North Georgia Health District.
According to statistics from the State Department of Health, about 2 percent of children in this school year chose vaccine exemptions for religious or medical reasons.
The whooping cough looks like a cold in the first week or two, said Orenstein. Diseased people may have a runny nose and a cough, he said.
The next phase, which can take several weeks, is characterized by coughing spasms. The name "whooping cough" comes from the sound that people make when they gasp after a coughing fit. This is followed by a recovery phase that can take weeks to months, Orenstein said.
Children who develop cough with or without anger, vomiting or respiratory distress should be assessed immediately, the North Georgia Health District said in a letter to Cherokee parents.
"Early treatment can help your child recover faster and reduce the likelihood of spreading the disease to others," the letter said.
Children who are diagnosed with whooping cough do not have to go to school until their antibiotic treatment is completed.
Cherokee School District spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said in a written statement that the system is collaborating with the state health department to ensure parents are "informed as soon as possible if their child's school is diagnosed with serious illnesses."
Pertussis cases in Georgia
2018: 210 *
* Preliminary data
Source: Georgia Department of Public Health