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Whooping cough/pertussis

What is whooping cough (pertussis)?

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial illness that causes a cough lasting several weeks. 

Who gets pertussis?

Pertussis can affect people of all ages, but can be very serious, even deadly, for babies less than a year old.

How is pertussis spread?

Pertussis is primarily spread by direct contact with the mucus or saliva of an infected person, or it can be spread by airborne droplets.

What are the symptoms of pertussis?

Early symptoms include a runny nose, sneezing, fever, and cough - symptoms similar to a common cold. About 1-2 weeks later, the cough worsens and patients develop bursts or rapid coughing followed by a high-pitched "whoop". These coughing fits usually last from 1-6 weeks. Pertussis can cause serious illness, especially in young infants.

How soon after infection do symptoms appear?

Symptoms usually appear 5-10 days after exposure to an infected person.

When and for how long is a person able to spread pertussis?

A person with whooping cough can pass it to others as soon as they get cold-like symptoms. They can also pass it for up to 3 weeks after they start coughing. If the infected person takes an appropriate antibiotic, they will not spread the germ after 5 full days of treatment.

Does past infection with pertussis make a person immune?

Infection usually produces a lasting immunity but, occasionally, a person will get pertussis for a second time.

What are the complications associated with pertussis?

Complications of pertussis can include pneumonia, ear infections, seizures, problems of the nervous system and brain, and death.

What is the vaccine for pertussis?

There are two vaccines in the United States authorized to prevent whooping cough: DTaP and Tdap. These vaccines also provide protection against tetanus and diphtheria. Babies and children younger than 7 years old receive DTaP, while older children and adults receive Tdap. Talk with your or your child’s healthcare professional if you have questions about whooping cough vaccines.

What can be done to prevent the spread of pertussis?

The single most effective control measure is maintaining the highest possible vaccination levels in the community. Treatment of patients with certain antibiotics, such as erythromycin, can shorten the time they are contagious. People who have pertussis should stay away from young children and infants until they have been treated.

For more information on where your child can be vaccinated, call 311.