JACKSON — Four students in about a month have tested positive for whooping cough in Jackson Township schools, the latest being at Jackson Liberty High School.

The first case was at Elms Elementary School on March 27. Other cases followed at Holman Elementary School and McAuliffe Middle School.

According to a letter from the district, the Jackson Liberty student is no longer contagious after receiving the proper treatment.

The disease gets its name from the high-pitched "whoop" made by the affected person trying to take a breath between violent coughs. It is also called pertussis.

Jennifer Crawford, supervisor of communicable disease for the Ocean County Health Department, said pertussis is not uncommon and can happen year-round.

"It isn't unusual for us to be investigating cases in any given month," Crawford said. "Jackson Township is a large municipality with a large school district. We're not seeing anything unusual in our community that makes this more concerning than four cases of pertussis that are under investigation.

Diagnosing whooping cough is not as straightforward as, say, testing for measles -- as officials have had to do in a recent outbreak.

"Health providers have multiple tests at their disposal and sometimes they're ordering a test different than what public health would use to classify these cases. For example, 'confirmed' versus 'suspect.' The different lab tests you can order change how we potentially classify those cases. It doesn't change the health care provider's clinical suspicions," Crawford said.

Cases of whooping cough were found in Summit schools in January and Chatham Middle School in February.

According to the CDC, early symptoms can last for one to two weeks and usually include:

  • Runny nose
  • Low-grade fever (generally minimal throughout the course of the disease)
  • Mild, occasional cough
  • Apnea – a pause in breathing (in babies)

After one to two weeks and as the disease progresses, the traditional symptoms of pertussis may appear and include:

  • Paroxysms (fits) of many, rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched “whoop” sound
  • Vomiting (throwing up) during or after coughing fits
  • Exhaustion (very tired) after coughing fits

People with pertussis may have a series of severe coughing fits followed immediately by vomiting, turning blue, or difficulty catching breath. The cough is often worse at night, and cough medicines usually do not help alleviate the cough.

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