On Jan. 2, Timpview High School received a letter from the Utah County Health Department warning students and teachers about a contagious disease, pertussis, diagnosed to a person within the school’s boundaries.
Pertussis is better known as whooping cough and is a highly contagious disease causing a different kind of excessive coughing. The cough generates the sound of a “whoop,” hence the name “whooping cough.” This disease not only results in weeks of coughing, but it also has the potential to seriously endanger the life of an infant.
Lance Madigan, public information officer for the Utah County Health Department, said, “More than half of infants less than one year of age who get pertussis are hospitalized.”
With that being said, the case reported at Timpview should not be taken lightly, especially to BYU students with young children. Even though “pertussis is generally not life-threatening to teenagers or older adults,” as Madigan said, that demographic can be “carriers of the disease.” Teachers and students have the capability of getting infected with pertussis at school and bringing the contagious disease home with them.
To ensure pertussis does not reach a rapid outbreak status and start hospitalizing infants, Margie Golden, the school nursing bureau director for Utah County, recommends some precautions students and teachers can make. Even those attending BYU can be exposed to the disease, especially considering the high risk of flu this season and the heightened probability of germs to spread.
“Good hand washing and taking care of your own health” can always reduce the students’ and teachers’ chances of being infected with pertussis. Golden also recommended that kids, as well as adults, should keep up to date on yearly flu immunizations.
Though implementing these precautions reduces students’ and teachers’ chances of becoming infected with pertussis, contamination to any contagious disease is sometimes unavoidable.
Golden added, “If you’re sick, stay home.” Staying home can reduce the risk of spreading the disease further and allows the body time to recuperate.
Aside from the many preventive measures Golden recommended, Madigan also heavily stressed the need for vaccinations.
“Pertussis is a highly contagious disease that puts those unvaccinated a high risk. … The best prevention we have is vaccination,” he said.
“If you can’t remember the last time you had a pertussis vaccination — called Tdap for adults — it is probably a good idea to get one,” Madigan said. “Most providers of vaccines carry these, often carried under the name ‘whooping cough,’ but the UCHD clinics all have it as well.”