BLOOMINGTON — A "small outbreak" of a contagious, bacterial illness that can be deadly in infants has prompted the McLean County Health Department to ask residents to be sure that their families are up to date with their immunizations and to recommend that people with a persistent cough see their doctor.
Since Jan. 1, eight children and adults in McLean County have become sick with confirmed cases of whooping cough (pertussis), including six people who became ill in the recent outbreak, said Amy Ehrich, health department communicable disease investigator.
"It's high," Ehrich said Monday of the numbers. "We don't know why."
The numbers compare with one confirmed case in 2014, Ehrich said. The previous whooping cough outbreak in Central Illinois was in late summer 2010, when Tazewell, Woodford and McLean County each reported cases.
Whooping cough is a respiratory disease that spreads easily and can cause a high-pitched cough that comes in spasms and can last for months if untreated. While the disease is not life-threatening to most healthy children, teens and adults, whooping cough can cause serious illness and death among infants and young children who are exposed to the disease before their first vaccinations at 2 months or who haven't been adequately vaccinated, said Sue Albee Grant, health department supervisor of community health services.
"Pertussis is a disease that can kill infants," Albee Grant said. Children are not fully immunized until 6 months old, putting them at higher risk, she said.
"That's why everyone around them should be immunized," she said.
The health department is contacting people who interacted with the residents with whooping cough to minimize the outbreak, Ehrich said. Public health officials also are sending letters to principals and school nurses in McLean County schools.
Susy Marcum, curriculum chairwoman for Unit 5 nurses, said the district has had positive cases of pertussis in the past week or two but it hasn't significantly affected school attendance.
"The schools absolutely step up their student hand-washing and washing of surfaces," Marcum said. "We talk about coughing or sneezing into your elbow. We're sending home letters to parents reminding them if students are sick to keep them home."