Jessica Dean and Robin Rodriguez

Last week Cal Poly experienced its first case of pertussis (or whooping cough) in recent years.  The infected student was living in Sierra Madre, and diagnosed at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center. The student is now in a private apartment in Yosemite Hall, where he will finish his course of antibiotics. Those who came into contact with the student have also been notified.

      Pertussis or whooping cough is an infection of the respiratory tract caused by the bacterium Bordatella pertiussis.  Whooping cough is a very contagious disease that can be mistaken for the common cold. The signs and symptoms of the disease include a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat, a low-grade fever and a cough.  In 2004, 25,000 cases of Pertussis were reported in the U.S.

      Although adolescents and adults who have been immunized may not experience all the symptoms, they can still spread the disease.  Children and infants who become infected are most likely to experience the classic symptom of Pertussis, a violent cough that gets it’s name because it causes the person to make a “whooping” sound as they try to catch their breath after a coughing fit. Pertussis-induced coughing fits can be extremely violent and may force the infected person to vomit or may even cause their ribs to break.

      Whooping cough is a very contagious disease and is transmitted from person to person through tiny drops of fluid from an infected person’s nose or mouth.  The droplets may also become airborne if the person sneezes or coughs.  Infected people are most contagious during the earliest stages of the disease up to about 2 weeks after the cough begins, and treatment with antibiotics will shorten the period of contagiousness. It is possible for an adult or adolescent to contract Pertussis, experience symptoms, and recover fully.

      According to Sally Connell of the San Luis Obispo Tribune, “Young people are vulnerable. Even if they were vaccinated as children, their vaccine has worn off.”  She also noted that students living in the dorms are like families, they are in close contact with one another, and may spread the disease through sharing utensils, sodas, and kissing. 

      With all that said, your probably wondering what Cal Poly is doing to help stop the spread of this disease. Students who are infected with Pertussis are receiving antibiotics and are isolated until they are no longer contagious. Students who have been in contact with the infected person, which are at highest risk for developing the disease, may also receive antibiotics.  Additionally, some may be immunized with the vaccine. If you receive notification within the next few days that you have been exposed or believe you may have been exposed to someone with whooping, or if you have been experiencing any of the above symptoms, call your doctor or clinic. Additionally, if you experience cold symptoms with a cough that just won’t quit, you may want to stop by the Cal Poly Health Center.

Jessica and Robin are senior nutrition students and Peer Health Educators.  They can be reached at

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