Pertussis is a highly contagious
bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing. The coughing can make it hard to breathe. A deep "whooping" sound is often heard when the patient tries to take a breath. Hear what whooping cough sounds like
Who is at Risk?
Children who are fully immunized are usually protected from whooping cough. But others are at risk, including:
- Infants 6 months and younger who haven’t received at least 3 doses of whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine
- Children and teens age 11 to 18 who haven’t had a booster shot of the vaccine
- Anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated or who hasn’t had a booster shot of the vaccine
| What if I was exposed?
- Not everyone exposed to pertussis will develop the disease.
- Watch for symptoms 7 to 21 days from the last day you were exposed.
- Stay home if you become ill and contact your doctor for follow-up care.
- Wear a mask, if you have symptoms and are visiting your doctor’s office.
- If you have whooping cough illness, you should stay home until the course of antibiotics has been completed.
- If you are being tested for whooping cough, you should stay home until the test results are known to be negative.
What can I do to protect myself?
- Children less than 1 year old are most at risk for developing a severe case; people around these children or women in their third trimester of pregnancy are encouraged to be vaccinated.
- Pregnant women in their third trimester may be vaccinated against pertussis.
- Clean your hands, eat a balanced diet, get proper rest and exercise, drink adequate amounts of fluids, and try to avoiding being close to someone with an active cough.
- Initial symptoms, similar to the common cold, usually develop about a week after exposure to the bacteria.
- Severe episodes of coughing start about 10 to 12 days later. In children, the coughing often ends with a "whoop" noise. The sound is produced when the patient tries to take a breath. The whoop noise is rare in patients under 6 months of age and in adults.
- Coughing spells may lead to vomiting or a short loss of consciousness. Pertussis should always be considered when vomiting occurs with coughing. In infants, choking spells are common.
- Other pertussis symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Slight fever (102 °F or lower)
- If started early enough, antibiotics such as erythromycin can make the symptoms go away more quickly. Unfortunately, most patients are diagnosed too late, when antibiotics aren't very effective. However, the medicines can help reduce the patient's ability to spread the disease to others.
- Infants younger than 18 months need constant supervision because their breathing may temporarily stop during coughing spells. Infants with severe cases should be hospitalized.
- An oxygen tent with high humidity may be used.
- Fluids may be given through a vein if coughing spells are severe enough to prevent the person from drinking enough fluids.
- Sedatives (medicines to make you sleepy) may be prescribed for young children.
- Cough mixtures, expectorants, and suppressants are usually not helpful and should NOT be used.
The best way to protect against pertussis is immunization
Visit the Center's for Disease Control Pertussis site