Whooping Cough: A General Guide

By Asa Brown

A few weeks ago, Head of School Mo Copeland alarmed students and parents when she notified the community that an upper school student had tested positive for pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

Yes, whooping cough, the notorious disease that caused many deaths throughout the Middle Ages up until the 19th century.

Luckily, since then, a vaccine has been discovered, and whooping cough is no longer a death sentence. Despite this, the vaccine is not without faults, and sometimes cases of the disease can still be passed around (at least that’s what my doctor said when I was tested a few weeks back). In fact, twenty pertussis deaths were reported in 2012, though some of those were unvaccinated individuals.

In the upper school, a few more people have tested positive and it doesn’t seem like the pertussis is going anywhere. So while the epidemic is still traveling around, let’s review what makes whooping cough whooping cough.

The illness is caused by transmission of the highly contagious Bordetella pertussis bacterium, which paralyzes parts of the respiratory cells, making it easy to cough and hard to breathe. Often, a mild fever and a runny nose accompany pertussis, but there are few other symptoms too. One OES student I talked to described it as “every time I coughed, it lasted for around 1 minute and I had to gasp for air between coughs because of the effort I was exerting when coughing.” They explained that “that’s what the whoop is,” “the chest pain and nausea after coughing”

So if you have it, hop on some antibiotics, stay home for a week, and you’ll be fine. I’ll also regurgitate some of the tips from OES upper school nurse, Elane, from last week:

  1. First and for most, stay home if you are sick!  If you are not feeling better in a couple of days despite getting extra rest and extra fluids, talk to your parent and possibly check in with your doctor.
  2. When you are at school, wash your hands frequently. Soap and hot water is best, but if not available use hand sanitizer.
  3. Cover your cough (!!!) by either carrying Kleenex or cough into the elbow of your sleeve.
  4.  Do not share your water bottles or any other food or drink for that matter.
  5.  Talk to your parents about family home remedies that seem to work for them. There is value in warm fluids, soups, and vitamin C.