Hospital worker has whooping cough

NASHUA – An employee at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center has been diagnosed with whooping cough, the second such case seen in the past month.

The hospital has one employee with a confirmed case of pertussis, or whooping cough, according to the city, while several other employees are being treated with prophylactic antibiotics for the bacterial disease as a precaution.

The hospital would not release the infected employee’s occupation, citing federal patient privacy laws.

One of the employees being treated is also a faculty member at Rivier College.

Last month, a school-age student was also diagnosed with whooping cough.

The medical center and college are working with the city public health department and state’s Disease Control Bureau to monitor the situation, according to a press release issued by the city.

Pertussis is a contagious bacterial disease that affects the respiratory system. Its nickname comes from the bouts of coughing that sound like a “whoop.”

It’s not unusual to see whooping cough, especially from October through December.

Under state law, hospitals and other institutions must report incidents of whooping cough. Last year, 111 cases were reported and in 2002, 85 cases were reported, according to Dr. Jessie Greenblatt, state epidemiologist.

The actual numbers, however, may be somewhat higher, he said.

Whooping cough is a common disease statewide and one of the most common reportable diseases, Greenblatt said.

The disease is spread by direct contact with discharges from the nose or throat of someone infected or by breathing in droplets of air when someone with the disease coughs or sneezes.

According to information released by the city, it requires close contact over a period of time for someone to be at risk of becoming infected.

The symptoms vary and can resemble a chronic cough or a mild cough, Greenblatt said. It can be very dangerous or fatal to children younger than 2, he said.

The most important thing is routine childhood vaccinations. Adults should follow common sense advice such as covering their mouths when they cough and frequently washing their hands, Greenblatt said.