About 750 students could be suspended from the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools on Wednesday because they lack a vaccination to prevent whooping cough, a school official said Monday.
State law requires that sixth-graders have an updated Tdap vaccination or booster shot. The vaccination protects against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, which is also known as pertussis.
School officials have sent messages via phone calls to students about the requirement, said Theo Helm, a spokesman for the school district. The students must be vaccinated no later than Tuesday, Helm said.
There are about 4,100 sixth-graders in the district.
“State law requires that we suspend those without the vaccination, and those suspensions would begin on Wednesday,” Helm said.
The Forsyth County Department of Public Health will provide free vaccinations amid a growing number of whooping cough cases, and the agency will provide its annual flu shots as well.
Beginning Oct. 1, the Department of Public Health will provide the vaccinations at its clinic within the health department at 799 N. Highland Ave. in Winston-Salem.
Marlon Hunter, the agency’s director, said that parents and other caregivers should have their children vaccinated for both diseases.
“We want to protect our children,” Hunter said.
As of Sept. 17, 98 cases of pertussis have been reported in Forsyth County, including six cases in infants, according to the health department. Those cases account for nearly 25 percent of all cases reported in North Carolina. In the previous five years, Forsyth County reported an annual average of 14 cases.
Dr. Christopher Ohl, a professor of infectious diseases at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said in a statement that pertussis is spread from person to person through coughing.
“People of all ages can get pertussis, but it is most severe, and even life-threatening, in babies and people with weakened immune systems,” Ohl said.
In 2012, 48,277 cases of whooping cough were reported in the United States, but many go undiagnosed and unreported, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coughing fits because of the pertussis infection can last for up to 10 weeks or longer.
Infants may have a symptom known as apnea, which is a pause in the child’s breathing pattern, the CDC says.
Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing until the air is gone from the lungs, and sufferers are forced to inhale with a loud whooping sound, the CDC said. The extreme coughing can cause vomiting and fatigue.
The symptoms include a runny noise and mild fever.