“It was just like having allergies,” Leonie Way, who was diagnosed with whooping cough last week, said. “A little bit of runny nose, sneezing. And then I started coughing, and then I was coughing more.”
The University of Oregon Health Center reported two cases of Pertussis, or whooping cough, on campus last week.
Whooping cough is a “highly contagious” illness that is most dangerous to infants, according to Richard Brunader, medical director of the health center.
Symptoms include cold-like symptoms with an intense cough that can lead to vomiting, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Way said she doesn’t know how she contracted whooping cough.
According to Brunader, the first case of whooping cough was diagnosed last Wednesday and the second was diagnosed last Thursday. Way said she didn’t know the other patient.
The Health Center has tested six other people since the initial diagnoses and they all came back negative, Brunader said.
Whooping cough is diagnosed through a nose-swab that tests for the bacteria Bordetella Pertussis, which causes whooping cough. The UO health center is able to get results back that same day through the “rapid lab” service, Brunader said.
Infected patients are most contagious in the first few weeks of being infected, and the cough can persist past the time they are contagious.
“I stayed home and was bored out of my mind,” Way said. She was advised by the health center to limit the number of people she interacts with while she was contagious and stay in her apartment.
Antibiotics are prescribed to treat Pertussis and prevent the infection of individuals in close proximity to someone who is infected, Brunader said. However in some cases antibiotics are not prescribed due to the risk of reinfection or lack of effectiveness.
For example, once the whooping cough bacteria has been established in a community, a person who has had the illness could be reinfected by the bacteria after they complete antibiotic treatment.
Brunader also said that certain patients are not prescribed antibiotics if they are diagnosed two to three weeks after symptoms present themselves because after that time, the medication is not as effective.
“There’s a lot of grey in this. We don’t want to over-treat, we don’t want to under-treat. We want to do the right thing,” Brunader said.
Whooping cough is not common at the university, however there are cases that present themselves every few years, Brunader said.
The Health Center offers vaccines to prevent whooping cough as well.
Way had been vaccinated for whooping cough when she was younger, however, she still contracted it as an adult.
“The vaccine is good but it is not perfect,” Brunader said.
To avoid getting whooping cough, students should wash their hands often, not share drinks with others and stay away from people infected with whooping cough.
“If it is a cold or respiratory symptom that just seems different to you – we’ve all had colds, we’ve all had coughs, so we know what seems to be typical,” Brunader said. “If something feels different – call us.”