Doctors Explain Whooping Cough

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It's loud, it's uncomfortable, and it's now been found at East Lansing High School. Two ninth graders have whooping cough, a bacterial lung infection that hurts, lasts a long time and, in infants, could be fatal.

"It's caused by bacteria, spread by droplet infections," explains Sparrow Hospital's Dr. Randy Pearson.

"Its transmission is through coughing, sneezing, touching, oral secretions, that type of thing," adds Ingham County Medical Director Dr. Dean Sienko.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is often confused with bronchitis or a common cold. But there's one major distinction, besides often resulting in broken ribs.

"You get coughing spasms, and this 'Whoop!', this loud whooping sound comes with it," Dr. Sienko says.

The doctors say whooping cough most often occurs in countries with poor immunization abilities. And Dr. Sienko says he's only seen a handful of cases this year. So at East Lansing High School, they're taking all the precautions they can.

"We're always a little worried a little bit about illness going around the school, no matter what it is," says ELHS principal Paula Steele.

But even if someone catches whooping cough, the news isn't all bad. It's easily treated with antibiotics, although the person will remain contagious until the cough goes away.

And even if people have gotten pertussis vaccinations, Dr. Pearson reminds "immunity is not lifelong." He says everyone should have one additional booster shot as an adult.

Dr. Sienko agrees: "We're seeing an increasing number of adolescents and adults with pertussis because their immunization is wearing off."

Staff and students at ELHS are certainly hoping they caught their coughs in time. On Wednesday, the school will begin immunizing the entire ninth grade class and staff to prevent further infection.