COEUR D'ALENE -

With schools back in session in North Idaho, the Panhandle Health District is warning parents and teachers about a Whooping Cough outbreak.

So far 59 cases of Pertussis ? better known as Whooping Cough ? have been reported since January and two infants were recently hospitalized. Now health officials are getting the word out and encouraging kids to get vaccinated to stop the spread of whooping cough this fall.

That can be a challenge when Idaho is has one of the lowest immunization rates in the United States.

"School just started so obviously if we're going to have some Pertussis, it may amplify here in the schools. But as of right now it hasn't happened,? Jeff Lee with the Panhandle Health District said.

The health district is being proactive this fall, warning parents, school districts and doctors in five North Idaho counties about Whooping Cough.

?Since the beginning of the year, we've seen about 59 cases. This time last year and in 2008, we've seen about six cases total each year,? Lee said.

The disease is highly contagious; someone can spread it before the cough starts and up to three weeks afterward. Health officials warn that sometimes it can be misdiagnosed as bronchitis or allergies, so it's important to stay alert.

?It starts out with a runny nose, watery eyes, maybe a little bit of a cough, within a week or two that cough becomes progressively worse," Lee said.

Parent Mandy Maxwell has an infant and kindergartner and didn't know about the outbreak so now she plans on keeping a watchful eye.

?It has a very distinct sound, so we'll be listening for that,? she said.

As the school year kicks off, Panhandle Health wants residents to stay happy and healthy.

?Years ago, we had hundreds of thousands of cases a year in this country; since we've had the Pertussis vaccine that's dropped dramatically,? Lee said.

Two Whooping Cough vaccine clinics are planned this Friday and next Tuesday at the panhandle health district in Hayden. You need an appointment to get a vaccination. To set up an appointment call (208) 415-5270.