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One Confirmed Case of Pertussis (Whooping Cough) in Watauga County, An App State Student

One case of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, was confirmed in Watauga County on Oct. 16, 2017. The case is in an Appalachian State University student.

County and university health officials report the individual diagnosed with pertussis is being treated, per guidelines established by the State of North Carolina and the Centers for Disease Control, and is fully cooperating in following isolation instructions. Although recently diagnosed, the individual is no longer considered contagious and public health officials do not believe the student has come into close contact with any populations who are at high risk of developing a serious case of pertussis, such as young babies.

Vaccine Preventable Diseases, Pertussis

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease. It is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe. After cough fits, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths, which result in a “whooping” sound. Pertussis can affect people of all ages, but can be very serious, even deadly, for babies less than a year old. The best way to protect against pertussis is by getting vaccinated.”

Appalachian State University Student Health Services and the AppHealthCare (the local health department) are working closely together with campus and community partners to prevent the spread of pertussis.

AppHealthCare and the university strongly encourage members of the university community and the community at large to be sure all of their family-household members, especially infants and young children, are up to date on their immunizations.

Those who have a chronic health condition that might increase the risk of a respiratory infection should seek advice from their health care providers, who can determine whether precautionary antibiotics might be recommended.

The information below is being shared with the public to assist in preventing the spread of pertussis.

What causes pertussis?

Pertussis, a respiratory illness commonly known as whooping cough, is a very contagious disease caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. These bacteria attach to the cilia (tiny, hair-like extensions) that line part of the upper respiratory system. The bacteria release toxins (poisons), which damage the cilia and cause airways to swell.

How does pertussis spread?

Pertussis is a very contagious disease only found in humans. Pertussis spreads from person to person. People with pertussis usually spread the disease to another person by coughing or sneezing or when spending a lot of time near one another where they share breathing space. Many babies who get pertussis are infected by older siblings, parents, or caregivers who might not even know they have the disease.

Infected people are most contagious up to about 2 weeks after the cough begins. Antibiotics may shorten the amount of time someone is contagious.

While pertussis vaccines are the most effective tool to prevent this disease, no vaccine is 100% effective. When pertussis circulates in the community, there is a chance that a fully vaccinated person, of any age, can catch this disease. If you have gotten the pertussis vaccine but still get sick, the infection is usually not as severe.

What are the symptoms of pertussis?

The disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms, and maybe a mild cough or fever. Early symptoms can last for 1 to 2 weeks and usually include:

Runny nose

Low-grade fever (generally minimal throughout the course of the disease)

Mild, occasional cough

Apnea – (a pause in breathing) in babies

After 1 to 2 weeks and as the disease progresses, the traditional symptoms of pertussis may appear and include:

Paroxysms (fits) of many, rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched “whoop” sound

Vomiting (throwing up) during or after coughing fits

Exhaustion (very tired) after coughing fits


The best way to prevent pertussis (whooping cough) among babies, children, teens and adults is to get vaccinated. Keep babies and other people at high risk for pertussis complications away from infected people. In the United States, the recommended pertussis vaccine for babies and children is called DTaP. This is a combination vaccine that helps protect against three diseases: diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. DTaP is a required vaccine to attend Appalachian State University.

AppHealthCare, the local health department, urges community members to check with their primary care physician about their current immunization records, to ensure they have the recommended vaccinations. Immunizations are available through primary care providers and AppHealthCare, Alleghany: (336) 372-5641, Ashe: (336) 246-9449 or Watauga: (828) 264-4995.

Appalachian State University students can access their immunization records at medportal.appstate.edu in three easy steps:

Sign in using your university user name and password.

Select the “immunization” tab.

Select “immunization history.”

This will allow students to view all immunizations they have submitted to Appalachian and all vaccinations administered by Appalachian’s immunization clinic. They will also have the option to print their records from this screen.

Additional information is available at:

Pertussis: https://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/

Spanish resources available here: https://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/about/index-sp.html

AppHealthCare and Appalachian State University also encourage the community to take this opportunity to get the flu vaccine, which is available for Appalachian State University students at Student Health Services, via all local health care providers and at many pharmacies throughout Watauga County.

More information about the flu can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm

Any further communications related to additional measures to prevent additional cases of pertussis in our community will be communicated to the media, as well as posted to www.apphealthcare.com.