WWCC Dietrich Dome

Walla Walla Community College Dietrich Dome

Public health and Walla Walla Community College officials said Tuesday there have been several reports of people experiencing pertussis-like symptoms in Walla Walla County. As of now, one WWCC student is confirmed to have the illness better known as whooping cough, said Meghan DeBolt, director of Walla Walla County Department of Community Health in an alert to the school.

One case is not an outbreak, or even a strong concern, but it does underscore the importance of immunizations as the school year gears up, DeBolt told the Union-Bulletin on Thursday.

The college student is being treated with antibiotics. Although the victim was vaccinated as a child, it is unknown if he or she got a one-time booster shot at the recommended time, health officials said.

Community College staff is working with local health providers to make sure students and teachers there are aware of the confirmed case and are taking required actions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pertussis is a highly-contagious illness that begins with symptoms similar to a common cold, such as runny nose, low-grade fever and cough.

The cough typically worsens over two or three weeks, and people may cough in spasms or fits, followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like “whoop.” Those fits are sometimes followed by vomiting and exhaustion.

Some people with pertussis, particularly older children and adults, can have very mild symptoms and not appear to be sick or contagious. It can affect all ages, but can be very serious and even deadly for babies under a year old.

The disease is spread when affected people cough and sneeze near others, especially in close spaces over long periods of time, such as within the same household. Symptoms usually appear within seven to 10 days of exposure, but it can be as long as three weeks before symptoms begin.

DeBolt is asking anyone who came in contact with the confirmed case to monitor themselves for the next three weeks for cold-like symptoms. Anyone who develops a cough, fever or other signs of respiratory illness should be evaluated by a health care provider.

WWCC students and staff with symptoms or who have had close contact with the ill student have been put on antibiotic treatment, DeBolt said.

Suspected cases of pertussis should be reported at 524-2650.

For more information about pertussis, go to cdc.gov/pertussis.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.