Pertussis shuts down small Virginia school

Blue Mountain School, a small, private school in Floyd County, Virginia has to temporarily close after half of its students became ill with whooping cough, leading to at least 30 diagnoses in total.  

The Virginia Department of Health is working to contain the outbreak, which has affected mostly children and a few adult cases, Roanoke.com reports. Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, can be life-threatening, especially in infants who are not yet old enough to be vaccinated.

"For those of us who are advocates of vaccination, this reminds us to stay vigilant," Dr. Molly O’Dell, director of the New River Health District said, according to Roanoke.com. "This is a good wake-up call to remind us why adults and children need to be vaccinated. This is why we advocate for immunization."

While schools and day care centers must keep documented proof that children have received age-appropriate immunizations, several families at Blue Mountain were granted religious exemptions to the immunization requirements. One of the required vaccines is the combined diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine.

"Many of the families and staff at our school understand that some people choose not to vaccinate their children," Shelly Emmett, the school’s director, said, Roanoke.com reports. "We're not requiring that they do."

The school is now following the health department’s recommendations for integrating untreated and nonvaccinated children back into the classroom. The school does not allow students who have not had antibiotic treatment to return until they have been quarantined at least 21 days since their last known day of exposure.

"We're asking that families share with us what they have chosen to do with regard to treatment so we can be responsible for reintegrating students and staff back into the school without the possibility of re-exposing people," Emmett said, according to Roanoke.com. "We're not taking one stance over another...but we're setting up guidelines."

The number of Virginia cases of pertussis grew 72 percent from 2009 to 2010.