Last Wednesday, Feb. 14, it was confirmed whooping cough was present on Washburn’s campus. Faculty and students were informed of this new development and encouraged to get checked out if they were experiencing any of the symptoms.
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is an upper-respiratory infection and is highly contagious. It begins as a cold and then moves down into the chest. People with whooping cough experience two or more weeks of coughing and will have a low-grade fever. They can cough to the point of vomiting and may even damage ribs. Whooping cough patients also make an involuntary “whooping” noise when inhaling during a coughing spell. This is because the bacteria that causes whooping cough narrows breathing tubes in the lungs and leaves one gasping for air.
The reason whooping cough is so contagious is because the bacteria is spread from person to person through tiny drops of fluid from the nose or mouth of one who is already infected. These drops may become airborne when the person sneezes, coughs or laughs. Other people then can become infected by inhaling the drops or getting them on their hands and then touching their mouth or nose. Infected people are most contagious during the earliest stages of the illness, up to about two weeks after the cough begins. Antibiotics can shorten the period of contagiousness to five days following the start of treatment.
Even if one has had their DPT shots, they may still be at risk for whooping cough. Immunity to the pertussis component declines with time, so by adulthood most people have lost their immunity.
“The biggest prevention, I would say, is to be re-immunized,” said Dr. Iris Gonzalez, Student Health Center director.
There is a new vaccine on the market called Tdap. This shot covers tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. The vaccine is recommended for anyone that needs a tetanus shot, has been exposed to whooping cough or wishes to be re-immunized against the disease. These shots are available at the Student Health Center for $35.
People who interact with small children are highly encouraged to get the new vaccine because it is most dangerous for small children four months or younger. That is because children this young have not yet received all of their vaccinations. With proper care, most teenagers and adults recover from whooping cough without many complications.
“I would certainly encourage people, if they have a bad cough, to come in and be evaluated,” said Gonzalez.