Outbreak of pertussis on a college campus

Am J Med. 2007 Apr;120(4):364-8. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2006.06.035.


Background: Pertussis is increasing among adolescents and adults despite universal childhood vaccination. This investigation describes an outbreak of pertussis among undergraduate students and assesses the burden of cough illness on a college campus.

Methods: Students presenting with prolonged cough were evaluated with culture, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and serology. An e-mail survey was performed to determine the burden of cough illness on campus.

Results: Thirty-seven undergraduates were evaluated. Their mean duration of cough was 28 days. No student had cultures positive for B. pertussis; one was PCR positive. Ten (27%) had serologic values consistent with acute pertussis infection. The e-mail survey was returned by 225/500 (45%) students. Of these, 66 (29%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 23%-36%) reported a cough of 2 weeks or longer duration during the fall semester. A conservative estimate showed that the campus-wide incidence of a cough illness meeting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention case definition for pertussis was 13% (95% CI, 10%-16%) during the fall semester.

Conclusions: Adolescents and young adults are susceptible to pertussis infection. This study demonstrates that there was a substantial rate of pertussis infection during an outbreak on a college campus. Our findings support the routine use of the acellular pertussis vaccine in adolescents and adults.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cough / epidemiology
  • Disease Outbreaks / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Student Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Tennessee / epidemiology
  • Whooping Cough / diagnosis
  • Whooping Cough / epidemiology*