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What Brenau, health officials are doing about possible whooping cough at university
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A group of students and employees at Brenau University may have been exposed to pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

Brenau is working with the Georgia Department of Health and the Hall County Health Department to identify the source of the illness, which likely began the week of Aug. 16.

Dave Palmer, public information officer at the District 2 Public Health office in Gainesville, said the cases of pertussis at Brenau are probable but not confirmed. Those who were potentially exposed to the illness have been offered the Tdap booster in addition to getting swabbed and tested. 

“We will continue to work with the university and advise them on any health-related issues that they may have questions about,” Palmer said. 

Palmer said pertussis is not an uncommon illness in the U.S. He describes it as “a contagious illness like the flu.”  It is spread by coughing or sneezing.

For 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a total of 134 cases of pertussis in Georgia. The agency reported 13,439 cases nationwide in 2018. 

“We try hard here in Georgia to make sure everyone has the vaccinations they’re supposed to have,” Palmer said. “Our schools do a good job making sure students are vaccinated, and that definitely helps keep the numbers down.”

Kristen Bowman, Brenau’s director of communications and media relations, said all of the university’s residential students are required to have the DTaP vaccine as a part of Brenau’s vaccination schedule. The DTaP is administered to children to develop an immunity toward pertussis and other bacteria-related illnesses. 

Palmer said the vaccine only needs to be administered once, but adults may receive a Tdap booster.

The Hall County Health Department encourages people to get the Tdap booster, especially children ages 11-12 and adults who have never received the vaccine. Tdap protects against both tetanus and pertussis.

Unlike residential students, Bowman said employees do not have to follow vaccination requirements. However, employees and students can receive a Tdap booster through the university’s Center for Health & Well-Being.

She said Brenau does allow religious exemptions for students, but its vaccination rate “is still upward of 99%.”

“The vast majority of Brenau students have been vaccinated and are at low risk of contracting this, but we felt it imperative to make everyone aware of the probable case and to share possible symptoms,” Vice President for Students Services Amanda Lammers said in a news release.