More pertussis in Oak Park, River Forest schools

Cases reported in all three public school districts

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By Maria Maxham

Staff Reporter

More cases of pertussis have been reported at Oak Park and River Forest public schools in the new year, adding to the already high running total that began in December.

The first cases were reported at District 200 Oak Park and River Forest High School in November, with students and at least one teacher being affected.

Since then, more confirmed cases have been reported at D200 and by the District 90 River Forest elementary schools and District 97 Oak Park elementary schools.

D200 parents received a Jan. 9 email from Dr. Gwen Walker-Qualls, senior director of pupil personnel services, stating that the school was notified of a sixth OPRF student diagnosed with pertussis "shortly after winter break began."

A Jan. 6 memo to D97 parents and families stated that the district was notified of an individual case at Whittier, bringing the total number of cases since Dec. 9 to eight within the schools (two cases at Lincoln and individual cases at Brooks, Mann, Longfellow, Holmes, Julian and Whittier).

River Forest's D90 has 12 confirmed cases to date, the first reported in December. Totals for the district are four cases at Roosevelt, seven at Willard and one at Lincoln.

All three districts mentioned that parents should alert the schools immediately if their child is diagnosed with pertussis, and all districts mentioned that custodial and building staff were working diligently to keep the schools as germ-free as possible.

Pertussis, a bacterial infection, affects the airways, causing severe coughing. Highly contagious, it is spread through coughing and sneezing. It can be especially dangerous for infants and people with weakened immune systems.

Although pertussis is one of the vaccine preventable illnesses, a vaccine for it on the regular schedule of recommended shots, immunity can wane over time.

According to the D97 memo to families, which included information about the disease, "Protection against pertussis from the childhood vaccine, DTaP, decreases over time. Older children and adults, including pregnant women, should get a pertussis booster shot called 'Tdap' to protect themselves and infants near or around them."

Residents are encouraged to contact their doctors if they suspect they or a family member has pertussis or to see if a booster is necessary. The Oak Park Public Health Department can be contacted at 708-358-5480 to find a vaccine provider.

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