Just a Cough or Whooping Cough?

At our Student Health and Counseling Clinic, we typically see many students throughout the school year with common colds, coughs and flu symptoms. In 2005 and again this past 2010-2011 school year, we’ve seen a significant number of students with cough symptoms that suggest Pertussis, or “Whooping Cough”.

Pertussis infection is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection which can be quite serious, especially in infants under one year of age who are not fully immunized. Pertussis is often referred to as the “100 day cough”. It is successfully treated with antibiotics.

Typically a student will complain of starting with common cold symptoms such as nasal congestion, sneezing, watery eyes, mild or no fever and a dry cough. After about 2 weeks, when the cold symptoms resolve, the cough persists and many students refer to “cough attacks” where a long run of coughing spasms results in gagging, choking or vomiting. In childhood a similar pattern evolves, but at the end of a cough attack, when gasping for air, a “whooping” sound is heard, hence the name “whooping cough”.

Why is it so important to treat patients with suspected Pertussis with appropriate antibiotics and advise staying home from work/school until antibiotics are completed? If Pertussis is spread to young infants under one year of age, before they are fully immunized, this vulnerable population may go on to develop other serious conditions such as pneumonia or encephalitis requiring hospitalization, or, in fact, they may die. We have learned that obtaining Pertussis immunization in childhood does not confer lifelong immunity, and that adolescents outgrow their immunity and are vulnerable to acquiring Pertussis and then spreading the disease.

Recent CDC requirements mandate giving a booster shot called Tdap, (which includes tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccines) to all children age 11 and over who have not had a booster. “Herd Immunity” is the term that describes how a community of adults getting booster shots, can indirectly protect our infants from unwitting exposure to this disease. We recommend all students receive Tdap booster shots if they haven’t been immunized since childhood. We will provide  resource information on where you can obtain your Tdap booster.

Please check our SHCS website for more information on “Whooping Cough”.
If you are concerned about your cough or have been exposed to another person diagnosed with Pertussis, please make an appointment at our SHCS for an evaluation by a medical provider.

And remember…Cover your cough! 

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