Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

What is it?

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a very contagious respiratory illness. It is caused by the bacteria “Bordetella pertussis,” and this disease is only found in humans.

Common Symptoms

Whooping cough may begin like a common cold, but the coughing can last for weeks or months. Because of this, it is often not diagnosed until symptoms become more severe or long-term.

How is it transmitted?

It can spread easily from person to person through the air. The person who has whooping cough releases small bacteria particles in the air when they cough or sneeze.

Who does it primarily affect?

It can affect anyone, but serious and sometimes deadly complications are more likely in babies and young children.

Is there a vaccine?

Yes, there are two age-dependent vaccines (DTaP and Tdap) in the United States that help in preventing whooping cough. These vaccines also provide protection against tetanus and diphtheria.

What other prevention steps can you take for whooping cough?

Preventive antibiotics may be recommended by your doctor only if you live with a person diagnosed with whooping cough or you are at increased risk for serious disease or will have close contact with someone who is at increased risk for serious disease. It is also important to practice good hygiene, such as covering your cough or sneeze and washing your hands often.

Is there anything else I should know about whooping cough?

Whooping cough is extremely serious for babies, as about 1/3 of babies younger than 1 who get whooping cough will need hospital care, and 1 out of 100 hospital-treated babies will die. Some people may not show any coughing symptoms. Instead, they may have apnea (life-threatening pauses in breathing) or even turn purple/blue.