Choctaws report several cases of whooping cough 8-07

PHILADELPHIA, Miss. (AP) – Government medical experts are expected in east Mississippi next week to assist in a whooping cough outbreak that has mostly affected the Choctaw Indian community.

About 70 cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, have been reported in east central Mississippi. One infant has died. The majority of those cases have been among the Choctaws, said interim state health officer Ed Thompson.

Thompson and Beasley Denson, chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, have asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for help.

CDC epidemiologists, who Thompson said have expertise in containing such outbreaks, are expected in east Mississippi on Tuesday.

After being notified of the first case about a month ago, tribal officials issued a reservation-wide notice of a potential outbreak, Denson said in a statement released by the tribe.

“We are working in cooperation with the CDC, local health departments and the Choctaw Health Center to ensure the safety of our people and employees,” Denson said. “Our office encourages all tribal members and employees to get vaccinated to prevent the spread of the disease.”

State law requires that all children have the whooping cough vaccine before starting school or preschool.

Pertussis, a bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing that can make it hard to breathe, is highly contagious. It can cause death in infants, children and the elderly.

“The requirements for immunizations to enter school within the Tribal School District are the same as the state’s requirements,” Director of Tribal Schools Terry Ben said in the statement. “We are constantly sending out notices where and when extended hours are available to make sure everyone is getting the vaccination or antibiotics as needed.”

Treatment medicines have been distributed to tribal day-care centers that have children who may have been exposed to the disease, according to the release.

About a dozen people who are not members of the Choctaw community but live in the area also have contracted the disease, Thompson said.

On Friday, Neshoba Central School District Superintendent V.C. Manning said five students who “exhibited symptoms of whooping cough” were sent home.

“We are following the instructions of the Neshoba County Health Department,” Manning said.

The students sent home were elementary age. Manning said there are no plans to close school if incidences of whooping cough increase.

“From our discussions with the Health Department, that would not serve any purpose,” he said.

Dr. Tree James, medical director for the east central district, said health officials have been focusing on getting vaccinations to those most at risk and treatment for those infected.

Her district includes Neshoba, Leake, Lauderdale, Scott, Newton, Clarke, Jasper, Kemper and Smith counties.

The local Health Department offices have been staying open until 7 p.m. this week and will continue to do so through next week to accommodate more people, James said.