CLINTON — Several cases of whooping cough, a highly contagious disease, have been confirmed in the Clinton School District, state health officials said Tuesday.

Dr. Gary Wheeler, chief of infectious diseases with the Arkansas Department of Health, said nurses will be at the Intermediate School on Wednesday to provide immunizations to students and staff. Family members of students and employees also are eligible for the inoculations.

"Once you get a cluster like this, that’s why we have to go in and do these more aggressive steps," Wheeler said.

He said the disease, also called pertussis, has been confirmed in fewer than six students in grades four through six at the school and about a dozen other students are exhibiting all the symptoms, including runny nose and coughing.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable coughing. The high-pitched "whoop" for which the illness is named occurs when children try to catch their breath between coughs. Vomiting can follow a coughing fit. Adults usually have milder symptoms.

"Those people are very infectious and will continue to be infectious for about two or three weeks while they’ve got the cough," Wheeler said, adding the disease is treated with antibiotics.

He said children are required to have the vaccine but it wears off, often in 10 years or less. He said 10 percent of adults have been vaccinated for the disease. He urged all adults to talk to their health provider and to get the vaccination.

The illness can cause death, especially among infants and people with suffering from immune deficiencies.

The U.S. is currently in the midst of the worst whooping cough epidemic in 50 years, with 32,000 cases and 16 deaths reported nationwide, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Reporter Rob Moritz contributed to this report.