Cases of whooping cough among students in the Vail Unified School District continue to climb.

The number of confirmed or probable cases jumped to 22 from 18 earlier in the week, the Pima County Health Department said Friday. The 22 cases are for 2013 and the first case was in May.

The county recently declared two outbreaks at schools in the district — at Empire High and Sycamore Elementary. An outbreak means three or more cases within 21 days.

Officials say five students at Sycamore have whooping cough. Twenty-four students at the school were identified as either unvaccinated or undervaccinated.

Any student who is not fully vaccinated will have to stay home at least two weeks to prevent further spread of the highly contagious respiratory disease, also known as pertussis.

In addition to Empire and Sycamore, probable or confirmed cases have been reported at Civano Community School, Andrada Polytechnic High School, Cienega High School, and at Old Vail, Desert Sky and Rincon Vista middle schools, district spokeswoman Natalie Luna Rose said.

A suspected case at Vail Blended Learning did not turn out to be whooping cough, she said.

On a positive note, county health Director Dr. Francisco Garcia is optimistic the Empire outbreak is ending.

“We’re going to make sure there are not any other suspected cases and at that point we’ll say the outbreak is over and you no longer have to exclude children from school if they are unvaccinated,” he said.

“The other sort of silver lining is that the Vail school district has really worked double time to update all the children’s vaccination records,” he said. “It has motivated a lot of parents to be proactive and get their kids vaccinated.”

Some children cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. But other parents choose not to vaccinate their children on the basis of personal belief, which is allowed under state law.

Garcia said he spoke with an angry Vail parent who said vaccinating is against his family’s religious beliefs.

“I said, ‘Your kid is a 5-year-old at Sycamore and if she gets sick she has the potential to get a very serious disease that could even kill her,’ ” Garcia said.

Every year one or two people die of whooping cough in Arizona; typically they are infants or young children.

Contact Star medical reporter Stephanie Innes at or 573-4134.