Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease. Pertussis 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. Pertussis can affect people of all ages, but can be very serious, even deadly, for babies less than a year old.
The best way to protect against pertussis is by getting vaccinated.
Pertussis is a very contagious disease only found in humans. It is spread from person to person. People with pertussis usually spread the disease to another person by coughing or sneezing or when spending a lot of time near one another where you share breathing space.
Many babies who get pertussis are infected by older siblings, parents, or caregivers who might not even know they have the disease.
If pertussis is circulating in the community, there is a chance that a fully vaccinated person, of any age, can catch this very contagious disease.
If you have been vaccinated but still get sick, the infection is usually not as bad.
Pertussis (whooping cough) can cause serious illness in babies, children, teens, and adults.
Symptoms of pertussis usually develop within 5 to 10 days after being exposed, but sometimes not for as long as 3 weeks
The disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough or fever.
In babies, the cough can be minimal or not even there.
Babies may have a symptom known as "apnea." Apnea is a pause in the child's breathing pattern.
Pertussis is most dangerous for babies.
About half of babies younger than 1 year who get the disease need care in the hospital.
After 1 to 2 weeks and as the disease progresses, the traditional symptoms of pertussis may appear and include:
Paroxysms (fits) of many, rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched "whoop"
Vomiting (throwing up) during or after coughing fits
Exhaustion (very tired) after coughing fits
Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing, over and over, until the air is gone from the lungs and you are forced to inhale with a loud "whooping" sound.
This extreme coughing can cause you to throw up and be very tired. Although you are often exhausted after a coughing fit, you usually appear fairly well in-between.
Coughing fits generally become more common and bad as the illness continues, and can occur more often at night.
The coughing fits can go on for up to 10 weeks or more.
In China, pertussis is known as the "100 day cough."
However, the "whoop" is often not there for people who have milder (less serious) disease.
The infection is generally milder in teens and adults, especially those who have been vaccinated.
There are several antibiotics (medications that can help treat diseases caused by bacteria) available to treat pertussis.
If you or your child is diagnosed with pertussis, your doctor will explain how to treat the infection.
Pertussis can sometimes be very serious, requiring treatment in the hospital.
Babies are at greatest risk for serious complications from pertussis.
Recovery from pertussis can happen slowly.
The cough becomes milder and less common.
However, coughing fits can return with other respiratory infections for many months after the pertussis infection started.
The best way to prevent pertussis (whooping cough) among babies, children, teens, and adults is to get vaccinated. Also, keep babies and other people at high risk for pertussis complications away from infected people.
In the United States, the recommended pertussis vaccine for babies and children is called DTaP. This is a combination vaccine that helps protect against three diseases: diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.
Vaccine protection for these three diseases fades with time. Before 2005, the only booster (called Td) available contained protection against tetanus and diphtheria, and was recommended for teens and adults every 10 years. Today there is a booster (called Tdap) for preteens, teens, and adults that contains protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
Being up-to-date with pertussis vaccines is especially important for families with and caregivers of new babies.
Like many respiratory illnesses, pertussis is spread by coughing and sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the pertussis bacteria. Practicing good hygiene is always recommended to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses. To practice good hygiene you should:
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
Put your used tissue in the waste basket.
Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands, if you don't have a tissue.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.