Doctor: local whooping cough outbreak 'near epidemic levels'

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FISHERS - A warning to parents tonight about a dangerous sickness reported at several area schools. One local doctor tells Eyewitness News the problem is near 'epidemic levels.'

Hamilton Southeastern Schools confirm two cases of whooping cough at Riverside Intermediate and Brooks School Elementary, and one case each at Fishers Junior High, Hoosier Road and Lantern Road Elementary.

It looks just like the common cold. If not caught in time, that mild cough can turn into violent fits, followed by a gasps for air. Those are both telltale signs, say doctors, of whooping cough.      

It's those signs that parents from the Hamilton Southeastern School District are being asked to look out for in the coming days.

"It's something you should be aware of," said parent Mark Robinson. He says he got a text alert about the cases at his daughter's school.

The letter being sent out to parents warns, in part: 

"It is important that you not send your child to school if he or she has any signs and symptoms of pertussis. If children with these symptoms are present in our schools, their parents will be called to take them home and have them evaluated by a physician."

"That may make it a little bit challenging for some folks, but if that's what's going to help protect a lot of the kids from coming down with whooping cough, then that would probably be the best thing in all," says Robinson.

One pediatrician Eyewitness News spoke with says the school district has the right approach.  That's because whooping cough is highly contagious.

"Sending kids to school who are suspected to have whooping cough is a very bad idea and its puts others at risk," says Dr. Christopher Belcher with Peyton Manning Children's Hospital.

"We haven't seen this much activity since the late 1950's," he adds.

Dr. Belcher says that's because the vaccine isn't perfect, and lasts three to five years.

"They work about 80, 85 percent of the time, so that still leaves 10 or 15 percent of the kids at least susceptible to the disease," explains Dr. Belcher.

That's why, he says, patients need to be on an antibiotic as soon as possible.  Everyone else in the house who's been exposed, says Belcher, should also be on antibiotics to stop the whooping cough from spreading.

Doctors say if someone has whooping cough in your house, it's a good time to make sure everyone's vaccines are up to date.