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September 12, 2012

To: UVM community

From: Jon Porter, MD Director of CHWB and Cheryl Flynn, MD, Medical Director CHWB

Re: Health Advisory – Pertussis
Pertussis (whooping cough) rates are on the rise with increasing number of cases reported in Vermont and the Burlington area. UVM had its first documented case this fall. The purpose of this message is to ensure that students, faculty, and staff are aware of this public health development and take appropriate steps to protect themselves and those with whom they are connected.

What is Pertussis?

Pertussis is a bacterial illness that affects the respiratory system; it is highly contagious. Pertussis is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe. After fits of many coughs, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths which result in the classic "whooping" sound. They may also gag or vomit after coughing.  Pertussis is especially dangerous for infants and very young children; it can even be fatal. Symptoms typically begin with nasal congestion and a mild cough which progresses in severity.  Infants under twelve months of age are particularly vulnerable to complications associated with pertussis.

Can it be prevented?

Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent pertussis.  Many people received initial vaccines as a child; however, because immunity associated with the vaccine begins to wane, it is important for everyone to make sure that they have received a booster dose of the vaccine.  The pertussis vaccine is typically given in combination with the tetanus vaccination in the form of a Tdap.

This is particularly important for health care workers and for those who care for infants 12 months of age or younger.

As for all respiratory illnesses, personal hygiene is an important way to minimize the spread of pertussis.  Washing your hands frequently using soap and water or hand sanitizer and sneezing/coughing into your sleeve are helpful measures.

Can it be treated?

Yes. Because pertussis is a bacterial infection, antibiotic medications can eradicate the infection and limit the spread. Treatment duration depends on the antibiotic chosen. If you have a prolonged cough, then please consult your health care provider to determine if testing or treatment is warranted.

What should I do now?

  • Review your immunization records to ensure that you have received a recent Tdap vaccination.  UVM students may inquire about their status at Student Health Immunization (656-0602 or [log in to unmask]) or through their primary care provider’s office.  Faculty and staff should make inquiry of their primary care office.
  • Receive a Tdap vaccination if necessary.  Students should consult with UVM Student Health (656-3350) if they have questions or to schedule a nurse appointment to get vaccinated.  Faculty and staff should consult their primary care office.
  • Tdap vaccination is especially important for anyone who works with or cares for infants twelve months of age and younger, as well as those in health care professions or training programs.
When should I be seen?

  • People who develop a prolonged cough or a cough of increasing severity as part of an illness that includes a runny nose, sneezing, low grade fever, and mild cough, should consult with their medical providers.  Students may contact Student Health office at 656-3350; faculty and staff should contact their own health care provider.
  • If you know you were in close contact with someone who has pertussis, it may be appropriate to give you antibiotics to prevent infection.
Where can I get more information?