NORTHPORT - Officials with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services say they are on alert after dozens of cases of whooping cough have spread across 12 different school districts.

Officials are warning local doctors, school nurses and parents of the symptoms after 26 cases have been found in recent weeks. They say there's been 205 confirmed cases in Suffolk this year, marking the first time in five years that there's been more than 100 cases.

Letters sent home to parents today warned of a case of whooping cough at Dickinson Avenue School in Northport. There have been 11 recent cases of the contagious virus in Northport and East Northport.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease characterized by a deep, uncontrollable cough that can last for weeks or months. Early symptoms may resemble the common cold. Doctors say the virus can cause permanent disability or even death in infants.

Doctors say the best way to avoid whooping cough is to get vaccinated as a child and again as an adult.