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What You Need to Know About Pertussis

Some of you may have been alarmed by the email sent out by the Dean of Students recently, with the subject heading “Communicable Disease Alert: Pertussis.” Pertussis, better known as the whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial disease, so it’s important to know what to look out for and what to stay away from to prevent being the next victim.

Pertussis is caused by Bordetella Pertussis and is highly contagious. This bacteria enters through your nose or throat and subsides in the hair-like structures of the respiratory tract. The bacteria cause these hairs to swell, which creates the infamous long-lasting dry cough. These bacteria can also be spread with coughing and sneezing, so it is important to cover your mouth when doing so.

Pertussis can last between six to twelve weeks. Pertussis starts with cold symptoms, including mild coughing, sneezing, runny nose or running a low fever. However, after about one to two weeks, the symptoms worsen. Coughing gets more severe and may end in a person’s cough sounding like a “whoop” at the end, which is how it got it’s name. These coughs are dry with no mucous present, so the person may be left breathless. 

If you find yourself having these deep and long coughing spells, do not use cough suppressants or expectorants because they will be ineffective. Expectorants are specifically designed to help you cough up mucous, of which is not present in whooping cough. To seek relief, turn on the shower and stand outside to inhale steam into your lungs. It is also important to drink a lot of water because whooping cough has the ability to dehydrate a person as well. 

Pertussis is best treated if caught early on because doctors can prescribe antibiotics that can cut down the symptoms and terminate contagiousness. Most cases are caught too late past the point where antibiotics are most effective, which is why it is important to get checked out even if your cold symptoms may not seem that bad yet.

While many 90s babies did get vaccinated against the whooping cough, you should still take precaution. In 2012, there was a 50-year high for cases of whooping cough, with over 48,000 Americans affected by it. Controversy has risen over a new whooping cough vaccination that came out in 1997 and is proven not to protect as long as the previous version. Litjen Tan, PhH, chief strategy officer of the Immunization Action Coalition explained that the previous version was a “whole cell” vaccine, which used all parts of the bacteria. This version was effective but known for its many side-effects. The newer version is an “acellular” vaccine, and only contains part of the bacteria. There are fewer side effects but the protection does not last as long. 

In other cases, it is possible for some vaccinated people to be carriers of the disease. While they may be protected against the bacteria and the symptoms following it, they can still transmit the bacteria to those who aren’t vaccinnated.

This is a friendly reminder to AU’s campus that sleep is not for the weak, you are not invincible, and nobody has time for a bacterial respiratory disease with finals around the corner. So get the extra hour of sleep, drink plenty of water, and wash your hands more frequently because germs spread faster than ever on a college campus. 


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