There have been 344 reported cases of Pertussis — also know as whooping cough— in San Luis Obispo County, as of Sept. 14.
Martin Bragg, the Director of Health and Counseling Services at the Cal Poly Health Center, explained that there have been three cases confirmed at the Health Center as of Sept. 22.
“I believe all of the confirmed cases have been (Cal Poly) employees, but we have had a number of other suspected cases,” Bragg said .
San Luis Obispo County has been hit hard with whooping cough. With only 265,297 residents, it has nearly as many confirmed cases as larger counties like Fresno with upward of 900,000 residents.
Michelle Shoresman, the emergency preparedness program manager for the San Luis Obispo County Health Agency, said that the outbreak hit San Luis Obispo before many other counties.
“We seemed to notice cases here earlier than everyone else,” Shoresman said. “We don’t know if it’s more diligent case reporting or if it possibly started in our county.”
Although the outbreak seems to be on the downward trend, Bragg still stressed the importance of getting the Pertussis vaccination.
“I received an e-mail (on Sept. 22) from my medical director that suggested that there were cases reported at SLO High and in Morro Bay. While the numbers have dropped off, there are still more cases,” Bragg said.
Despite the fact that, from a mortality standpoint, whooping cough is not very dangerous to the general population, it can be a problem for infants, older individuals and anyone with a compromised immune system.
Caitlyn Leahy, a food science junior employed as a food program assistant at the Associated Students, Inc. Children’s Center on campus, didn’t know about the Pertussis outbreak in San Luis Obispo.
“I guess I wasn’t aware because the disease doesn’t really affect the majority of (Cal Poly students), it just wasn’t brought up as much,” Leahy said.
But as an employee at a childcare center, Leahy said she saw the importance of getting immunized.
“I am more inclined now to go get immunized. In the past, I haven’t gotten vaccines but considering SLO is a hotspot and I’m now working with kids, it makes sense for me to get it,” Leahy said .
People like Leahy who work with kids should definitely get the immunization, Bragg said, but he also stressed that everyone should get the vaccine as the best defense against contracting the illness.
Other than that, practicing proper coughing and sneezing hygiene can help to stop the spread of the disease because Pertussis is a droplet spread illness.
“Sadly, the initial symptoms are indistinguishable from the common cold … that’s why it’s so important to cough into your sleeve, wash your hands a lot, don’t kiss people and don’t share cups while you’re sick,” Bragg said.
Cal Poly has informed students about the illness through e-mails explaining ways to prevent the spread. Also, in the dorms, University Housing has put together packs filled with tissues, masks and alcohol swabs to help people who are in the immediate vicinity to avoid transmission of pertussis.
Additionally, on Sept. 23, Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo County teamed up to provide a free vaccine clinic in Poly Canyon Village — a first for the university, Bragg said.
The Cal Poly Health and Counseling Services website also lists recommended immunizations that all Cal Poly students should get — even those living off campus. Among these immunizations is the Tdap, a vaccine that acts against tetanus, diphtheria and Pertussis.
“At this magnitude (Pertussis) is rare,” Bragg said. “But I think that these things run their course. The county is doing what they can to immunize people, but there is a natural pattern.”
The Health Center will continue to carry the vaccine, which is available for $36 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.