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updated: 11/21/2011 6:45 PM

Whooping cough cases swell to 121 in McHenry County

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McHenry County's whooping cough outbreak has reached 121 people so far, and health officials are concerned about that number increasing because of Thanksgiving.

Debra Quackenbush, the McHenry County Department of Health community information coordinator, said people are bound to get together over the holiday weekend with family members they may not see very often, including the very old and the very young -- two high-risk groups for the highly contagious bacterial infection.

The health department has been trying to educate the community about how to avoid spreading the illness as much as possible since initial cases in mid-October turned into a rapidly spreading outbreak.

"If you are ill, you should stay home," Quackenbush said. "That really seems to be a key message that doesn't seem to be getting through."

Once diagnosed, people should stay home for the course of a five-day antibiotic treatment regimen. But Quackenbush said many kids are being sent back to schools after just a couple of days and continue to spread the infection.

There has been an increase in the number of babies being diagnosed with whooping cough, but so far there have been no hospitalizations. Quackenbush said California had an outbreak in 2010 that included 9,000 sick children and 11 infant deaths.

"There's no reason for us to see that high rate of infection here when it's just education and prevention," Quackenbush said.

The McHenry County Department of Health will hold its fourth walk-in vaccination clinic from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 1 at McHenry County College, 8900 Northwest Hwy. in Crystal Lake. Dominick's pharmacies also are offering the vaccine on a walk-in basis, and individuals are encouraged to make appointments to get vaccinated at their own doctors as well. Cost is $50 at the clinic or $15 for those who qualify for a reduced rate because of income or insurance status.

Symptoms of whooping cough (also known as pertussis) include cough, runny nose, sneezing and low-grade fever. The signature "whooping" sound can be heard at cdc.gov/pertussis.

For more information about the clinic or pertussis, visit mcdh.info or call (815) 334-4510.

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