The wave of whooping cough that struck Iowa last year has finally reached the Carroll area, where the number of cases reported this month has already exceeded those reported all of last year.

Ten cases have been reported this winter and mostly this month, said Robin Sullivan-Klocke, clinical coordinator of the county's Public Health Services. Two were reported last year, according to state health department data.

"I don't think this is the end of it, but I can't tell you how many cases we'll see," Sullivan-Klocke said.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, gives initial symptoms of a common cold - coughing, sneezing, runny nose and a slight fever. But with pertussis, the cough worsens and can persist for weeks.

The bacterial infection is especially devastating to infants and elderly people who have poor health. Infants struggle to breathe through the coughing fits and make a telltale "whoop" when they inhale to catch their breath.

The age range of those infected in Carroll County this winter is 3 years to 75, said Sullivan-Klocke. Adults were the first to suffer from the illness, but the reported cases have shifted to children.

Five cases have been confirmed at the public elementary and middle schools, said Theresa Pauk, the school nurse at Fairview Elementary.

"It hasn't been a huge factor at this point, although we might just be seeing the beginning of it," she said. "Chances are we will see more cases."

Several Kuemper Catholic School students have been infected, according to the school's website.

Those who suffer the illness are highly contagious from the onset of their cold symptoms until five days after they start taking antibiotics. Pertussis is most commonly transmitted through a sneeze or cough. State health officials ask those who are infected to stay at home until they are no longer contagious.

One possible case of pertussis was reported at Carroll Area Child Care Center and Preschool, which houses about 140 infants and toddlers on weekdays.

"We've never had it here before, so this is all new for us," said Nikki Heuton, the center's director. "The infants, we keep them in their rooms. We're going to keep them kind of quarantined because they're so vulnerable."

Winter illnesses are already rampant at the center, where staff members have been diligently cleansing hands and toys for weeks, Heuton said.

County health officials are offering immunization shots to children ages 11 and older to help stem the spread of pertussis. Children often get their final pertussis vaccination before they start kindergarten, and the effectiveness of the protection wanes after five years. Also, the vaccine isn't 100-percent effective at stopping an infection.

Parents of public and parochial school students were asked to sign up for the in-school immunization clinics this week. Kuemper plans its clinics for Feb. 22. Pauk said the Carroll clinics have not been scheduled and will depend on availability of the vaccine.