Whooping cough, flu cases up at Parkland

Emma Gray


With waves of influenza sweeping the nation, Parkland is just another victim. Parkland’s staff and student body have seen increases in both cases of influenza and pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough.

The public health department notifies Parkland when reportable diseases are diagnosed on campus and, this year, there has been an increase of pertussis in the community according to Sara Maxwell, Parkland’s wellness coordinator. The Champaign area has also seen an increase in influenza according to Maxwell.

Maxwell sent out an email notification on Jan. 17 warning students about secondary infections that may accompany illnesses like influenza which could turn into respiratory illnesses like, pneumonia, and bronchitis.

The email notification also included information on how to recognize these illnesses and prevent them.

Pertussis can be identified by a hard cough that lasts longer than a week and can be worse at night. Cough medicine often does not help and gagging or vomiting can follow coughing fits. Pertussis is considered a highly contagious respiratory disease by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is a vaccine available for it, however.

If students do become sick with pertussis, Parkland requires they stay off campus for five days after starting antibiotic treatment. Students should contact their instructors informing them of the situation, as well as Dean of Students Marietta Turner, so that excused absences from courses can be arranged.

Pneumonia can be identified by coughing, fever, and breathing difficulties, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. It is caused by bacteria or viruses. The chance of getting pneumonia can increase after having the flu or if one has chronic health conditions or smokes. Pneumonia can last days to weeks according to the Mayo Clinic.

Bronchitis can be identified by coughing, fever, chest soreness, fatigue, aching, mucus production, and a sore throat. The cough can last several weeks, even if other symptoms clear, but usually clears within a few weeks. It can be caused by the same virus as influenza or by smoking or other irritants according to the Mayo Clinic.

Even if students believe they are not at risk of becoming infected with one of these illnesses, they should take precautions.

“All individuals should take special care in preventing illness, not only to take care of themselves, but also to take care of our community,” Maxwell said. “Coming to school with an illness can increase the amount of people infected, possibly infecting someone with a compromised immune system. This also poses an additional risk to students with asthma, respiratory conditions, and underlying medical conditions as influenza can exacerbate these conditions.”

In her email, Maxwell suggests students avoid irritants, cover coughs and sneezes, disinfect areas often, get vaccinated, and wash their hands often.

“Improper handwashing is the biggest risk factor for anyone,” Maxwell said. “It is easy to rush through our busy days without paying attention to how often we have washed our hands. And handwashing isn’t just for after using the restroom. It is beneficial to wash your hands before you eat, after touching money, and after sharing writing utensils as well.”

If students do become sick they should see a physician for treatment, especially if they are experiencing a high fever. Students should also try to communicate their illness to their professors if they suspect it will make them miss class.

“If you miss more than one day of class, you may also contact the Dean of Students’ office and they will let your instructor know about your absence; however, it is up to the instructor to decide if the absence is excused and how missed work will be handled,” Maxwell said. “It is always wise to get a doctor’s note in case it is requested. The Wellness Center cannot provide you a note for missing class.”

Student are discouraged from coming to school sick, even if they must talk to instructors or have unexcused absences, and are required to stay off campus if they have pertussis for five days after they have started treatment.

For more information, contact Sara Maxwell in the Wellness Center in U112.