OREM — Whooping cough outbreaks have been reported at four Utah County elementary schools.
The Utah County Health Department as of Monday afternoon was tracking 15 cases of whooping cough at Foothill Elementary School in Orem. Department spokesman Lance Madigan said the number represents only confirmed cases.
"Based on (Centers for Disease Control) numbers, typically for every confirmed case you'll see 10 unconfirmed cases," Madigan said.
Dixon Middle School, Provo High School and Sunset View Elementary in Provo also have confirmed cases of whooping cough, although those schools have seen only two cases each.
Madigan said the numbers are higher than the county normally sees in schools. Usually one or two cases will come out of a single school, but the county — and the rest of the nation — is seeing a significant increase in cases of whooping cough this year.
Utah County has seen 325 confirmed cases so far this year, compared to 165 in 2011. The five-year average for the county is about 61 cases.
There have been 1,146 cases statewide so far this year, compared to 537 at the same time in 2011.
Madigan said the best way to protect against whooping cough is to make sure children are up to date on immunizations. Precautions against the common cold, such as washing hands, avoiding touching your face and keeping sick children home also help protect against it.
Despite the increase in cases, Madigan said students should not be pulled out of school.
"Pertussis can be a serious condition, but most of the time it's not," he said. "If your child shows symptoms, see a pediatrician — it's very treatable in most cases. Be aware, be on the lookout, but don't freak out."
Pertussis symptoms can can look similar to those of a common cold, but the cough is "sustained, deeper and heavier," according to Madigan. Once called the 100-day cough in adults, the cough can last for weeks. All age groups are susceptible to it, but the most severe cases are typically seen in children, which is why the health department is focusing on immunizations.
"Immunizations are (in most cases) required at school because it can spread so easily," Madigan said. "You have to make sure your child's immunizations are up to date."
Parents can get exemptions from the immunization requirement for medical, religious or personal reasons. Madigan said 4–6 percent of Utah County students have opted out of immunization requirements.