From the Student Health Center

Western’s Student Health Center cautions that two Western Washington University students have been identified as having pertussis, or whooping cough, and are taking antibiotics that treat the infection. According to Dr. Emily Gibson, Center director, this is not considered an “outbreak” but warrants the attention of health officials as a reportable contagious disease. Whatcom County Health Department officials are doing routine investigation of other pertussis cases in the general population as well.

Dr. Gibson notes that there has been an increase in incidence of pertussis in Whatcom County in the last two years, as well in other counties in Washington and Oregon.

The Center is working closely with the Health Department to identify people who had close contact with the infected students that may put them at risk for exposure to pertussis infection. Those people at highest risk are offered antibiotics to prevent onset of infection.

Center health care providers will consider pertussis in the differential diagnosis when evaluating students with prolonged cough illness that fit the pertussis case definition and are working closely with the Health Department to monitor and handle any suspect cases.

A new vaccine for adolescents and adults has been licensed for distribution but is not yet available for routine administration, pending Center for Disease Control review and recommendations. At this time the Student Health Center will not be offering the vaccine until a recommendation comes from the CDC regarding its administration. People who were vaccinated as children can still get pertussis because protection from the childhood vaccine is temporary.

Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Info

Pertussis is a contagious bacterial infection that causes coughing spasms and choking. Sometimes when the infected person coughs, the person will make a “whoop” sound when breathing in.

The disease starts with cold symptoms: runny nose and cough. A fever may or may not be present. Within 1 to 2 weeks, spasms of coughing start. The person may look and feel fairly healthy between coughing spells.

Pertussis is spread through droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.

People with the disease can be treated with antibiotics. People treated with antibiotics can spread the disease until they have taken antibiotics for 5 days. If antibiotics are not taken, the person can be contagious for 3 weeks after the coughing spells start.

People with pertussis should avoid contact with others until the first 5 full days of the antibiotic treatment have been taken.

Pertussis is most dangerous to children less than 1 year old. Usually school aged children and adults have milder symptoms than young children.