By: Lauren Lindsay & Lisa Belanger, USM Alumna & Director of Health Services

While at school, students come into close contact with one another.  We have all seen someone sneezing or heard someone coughing and might not have thought anything of it.  Yet, sometimes a sneeze is more than a sneeze and a cough is much more than just a cough.

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a good example of this type of masquerading illness.  It is a serious infection that can be spread easily from person to person. Over the 2-3 years, Maine has seen a significant increase in pertussis cases.  The majority of those affected have been children. Pertussis triggers bouts of coughing that can make it difficult to breathe, eat or sleep for those suffering from the infection, particularly children.  In adults, pertussis is often milder than in children which makes some of the signs and symptoms of the infection less obvious. As result, unknowingly infected adults can pass the disease to those more vulnerable such as babies or elders.   It usually takes anywhere from one to three weeks for signs and symptoms of the illness to develop. Typically early symptoms resemble those of a common cold, but then thick mucus starts to develop inside the airways, accompanied by fatigue, spasms of cough and sometimes vomiting.  For very young children, hospitalization is often required.

Being in close living quarters with one another is common in a collegiate environment.  Unfortunately, this is also how the bacterial culprit, Bordetella pertussis, is easily spread. Before 2005, a vaccine for pertussis was not available.  However, there is now a vaccine called Tdap that can protect students from pertussis as well as tetanus and diphtheria.  Tdap is a one-time vaccine that is recommended for all USM students and also satisfies the state immunization compliance requirement for tetanus vaccine.  

So remember, if you have a persistent cough that you can’t seem to shake, get it checked out by a healthcare professional.  And, if you haven’t yet gotten your Tdap vaccine, don’t delay, make an appointment now to protect yourself, your family and your friends.  Call University Health and Counseling Services at 780-5411 to set-up your appointment today….and while you’re there, get your flu shot done at the same time.  Two shots of prevention…much preferred to getting sick in advance of the holiday season.



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