Thirteen students in three Smithtown schools have come down with pertussis, or whooping cough, prompting county health officials to alert parents and local doctors.

The schools affected are St. James Elementary School, Tacken Elementary School in Nesconset and Nesaquake Middle School in St. James.

"Pertussis has been common in the community in recent years, mostly among adults, in whom immunity has waned," Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. James L. Tomarken said in a statement Tuesday. "While most individuals will recover fully from pertussis, we are concerned about infants who have not received full immunization and to whom pertussis is particularly dangerous and can be fatal."

The highly contagious bacterial infection causes uncontrollable, violent coughing lasting several weeks or even months. Pertussis may begin with cold-like symptoms or a dry cough that progresses to episodes of severe coughing. It is spread from person to person through droplets of saliva.

All the students affected had been vaccinated for whooping cough, and had milder forms of the illness. They are expected to make a full recovery.

Whooping cough has made a resurgence in recent years, national experts say, as more parents skip or change the schedule of their children's vaccinations.

Immunization officials recommend children get the diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis vaccine, or DTaP, in five doses: at 2, 4, 6, 15-18 months and 4-6 years. A booster vaccination for teens and adults called the Tdap is also recommended as the childhood vaccine often wanes in pre-pubescence.

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