Catching up on Pertussis

The combination of going back to school, the changing seasons, cooling temperatures and being around so many other people can do wonders to a student’s immune system — or in this case a lot of immune systems.

Castleton Wellness Center Director Martha Coulter said the center has seen “significantly more students” this year than in previous years, most with upper respiratory issues.

One that’s making the rounds this year is pertussis, otherwise known as whooping cough.

A school-wide email stated that although Vermont is seeing an increase in the number of individuals diagnosed with pertussis, there is no epidemic on campus.

Wellness Center officials did not confirm any number of pertussis cases on campus citing confidentiality issues.

One student however, did admit he had pertussis.

Matt Smith, a sophomore, said he had pertussis over the summer break and it continued into the beginning of the fall semester.

“You cough and cough and cough and then you puke. Then you cough some more,” said Smith laughingly looking back at his time with pertussis.

His description matches the symptoms listed in the campus-wide email.  

It described them as usually being “a long string of coughs, sometimes followed by a whooping noise…vomiting may occur after a coughing episode.”

Denise Rhodes, staff assistant for the Wellness Center, said pertussis is spread through “sputum” or mucus from an infected individual.

The Vermont Department of Health has a section of its website devoted to pertussis. It notes that “Generally, several hours of close contact with an infected person are necessary to spread the disease.”

The school email information sheet notes that “Usual classroom contact is not considered close contact.”

Rhodes did add that any students concerned with the possibility of getting pertussis can get what is called a Tdap vaccine.

The Department of Health site adds that the “effectiveness of pertussis vaccine decreases over time so teenagers and adults who were fully immunized as children do not have full protection from pertussis.”

Many students at Castleton seem to be under the weather though,and Barbara McCall, coordinator of Campus Wellness Education, said the Wellness Center is putting together “cold kits” for students after break. They will contain the usual assortment of cold remedies such as cough drops, tissues, facts, and even tea.

Smith, with a laugh, said he feels “just happy to be alive.”






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