updated 10/1/2006 11:31:06 PM ET 2006-10-02T03:31:06

Whooping cough has been diagnosed in more than two dozen medical workers at the same hospital in the past three weeks, and 55 others who have shown symptoms are being tested, a spokesman said Saturday.

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Since Sept. 7, 28 cases of whooping cough have been confirmed at St. Vincent Hospital, said Dennis Irish, a hospital spokesman.

The outbreak appears to be confined to the hospital staff, with all victims part of the surgical department except one records worker, said Dr. Anthony Esposito, the hospital’s chief of medicine.

Whooping cough is a highly infectious bacterial disease that can produce a rattling cough. The symptoms linger for months and cause patients to lose sleep and weight.

The disease is rarely fatal for anyone past infancy. None of the infected staff members worked in the pediatric or maternity wards, Irish said.

The outbreak is taking a toll on staffing, said nurse Kathie Brennock.

None of the workers appeared to be suffering complications, and the disease doesn’t appear to have passed to any patients, Irish said. Hospital officials said they expect to send letters to 2,000 patients who may have been exposed.

Officials believe the first case was a gastrointestinal surgeon who is a military reservist and likely got the disease while on duty, Esposito said.

Donna Rheaume, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health, said 780 cases of whooping cough have been reported in the state this year.

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