PERTUSSIS (WHOOPING COUGH)
What is it?
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial infection that is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe. After fits of many coughs, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths which result in a “whooping” sound.
What are the symptoms?
- Symptoms appear from 5 to 21 days after exposure to the bacteria, but sometimes not for as long as 6 weeks in infants.
- The disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough or fever. After 1 to 2 weeks, severe coughing may begin. Unlike the common cold, pertussis can become a series of coughing fits that continue for weeks.
- In infants, the cough can be minimal. Infants may experience apnea, which is a pause in the breathing pattern.
- Extreme coughing can cause vomiting and fatigue.
What are possible complications?
- Young infants are at highest risk for complications.
- Complications include pneumonia, convulsions, apnea, ear infection, weight loss, loss of bladder control, passing out, broken ribs, brain disorders, and death.
How is it spread?
- Pertussis is spread through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes while in close contact with others.
- People treated with appropriate antibiotics can still spread the disease until they have taken antibiotics for a full 5 days.
- If antibiotics are not taken, the person can be contagious from the onset of symptoms until 3 weeks after the coughing spells start.
Who gets it?
- Pertussis can occur at any age.
- Severe illness is more common in young children who have not been immunized. Older children, adolescents, or adults who have been immunized often have milder symptoms, but can be the source of infection for infants and young children.
What is the treatment?
- Antibiotics are used to treat pertussis.
- After five days of treatment, a person is no longer contagious even if he or she is still coughing.
How can we prevent pertussis?
- The best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated.
- The vaccination for pertussis is included in the DTaP vaccine for children under 7 years of age, who should get 4 doses by 15 months, and a booster at 4 to 6 years of age.
- A single dose of Tdap for children 7 through 10 years of age who were under immunized with DTaP is now recommended.
- Adolescents and adults, ages 11 years and older, should get a Tdap vaccine.
- Pregnant women should receive a Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy, ideally between 27 and 36 weeks gestation, although Tdap may be given at any time during pregnancy.
- Ideally, administer Tdap at least 2 weeks before beginning close contact with an infant.
For more information, or to report a pertussis case, call the
Whatcom County Health Department at (360) 676-4593.