Pertussis is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. This illness is notorious for uncontrollable, violent coughing fits that can make breathing difficult. Pertussis is often referred to as whooping cough due to the “whooping” sound people make as a result of gasping for air after having several coughing fits. Symptoms are usually mild at first, can worsen over time and include serious complications especially in infants.
Infants younger than 12 months of age who are either unvaccinated or haven't received the full vaccination series for pertussis are at the greatest risk for developing serious complications or dying from this disease. In addition, teenagers and adults who have not received their pertussis booster vaccine are more susceptible to illness should an outbreak occur.
Pertussis spreads from person to person through droplets produced by coughing, sneezing, or talking. It may also be spread through exposure to surfaces and objects contaminated with the pertussis bacteria. Most babies who develop pertussis are infected by other household members, grandparents or caregivers who typically don’t even realize they have the disease.
Once infected, it takes approximately 7-10 days for symptoms to appear. An infected person is most contagious for about 2 weeks after their cough begins. Antibiotics may help to shorten the amount of time someone is contagious.
Symptoms of pertussis can vary between babies, adolescents and adults. They are usually mild at first and are similar to those of a common cold:
After 1-2 weeks, signs and symptoms begin to worsen:
Complications associated with pertussis are more serious in babies and young children, especially if they have not received all recommended pertussis vaccines. These complications usually require hospitalization and can include:
Teens and adults can also develop complications, although they are typically less serious, especially if they have been vaccinated. Some of these complications include:
The best way to protect yourself from pertussis is by getting vaccinated. There are two types of vaccines available to help protect against pertussis, along with some other diseases:
The CDC recommends pertussis vaccination for all babies and children, preteens and teens, and pregnant women. In addition, adults who have never received a dose of Tdap should also be vaccinated.
Additional tips to protect yourself from pertussis: