Health Topics

Pertussis or Whooping Cough

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial disease involving the respiratory system. People of all ages get pertussis, but it is most severe in children, especially those under one year of age.

Pertussis sometimes leads to pneumonia and trouble breathing.  In rare cases, it causes death.

Pertussis is spread by:

  • Nose and throat droplets (fluid or mucus) when an infected person sneezes or coughs
  • Touching the discharge (fluid or mucus) from the nose or throat of infected people

Pertussis is highly contagious the first two weeks, before the violent coughing starts. If a person with pertussis takes antibiotics, the contagious period is usually five days. Without antibiotics, the contagious period may last up to 3 weeks.

Symptoms can take six to 20 days to develop after contact with a contagious person, but usually take nine to 10 days to appear.

Signs and symptoms of pertussis

Symptoms of pertussis include:

  • Runny nose
  • Red watery eyes
  • Mild fever
  • Sneezing
  • Irritating cough

One or two weeks after the symptoms listed above, a person with pertussis will have violent coughing.  The coughing lasts several minutes, followed by a crowing or “whoop” sound.  Babies less than six 6 months of age and children, teenagers and adults who have had some vaccines may not make this sound. The coughing often ends with discharge of clear mucus and/or vomiting (throwing up).

The cough may continue for one or two months or longer. A child can turn red from the effort of coughing or blue from not breathing properly. Babies younger than six months of age and people with severe infection may need to be hospitalized.

See your doctor if you think you or your child has pertussis.

Antibiotics may reduce the severity of symptoms for pertussis.

Here are some tips if you have pertussis:

  • See you doctor if you have a cough for more than two weeks.
  • Avoid contact with women in late pregnancy (third trimester), babies less than one year old and young children until you take antibiotics for five days.
  • Wash your hands often using soap and water or use hand rub with 70 - 90% alcohol.
  • Sneeze and cough into a sleeve or tissue. Throw away the tissue after use and wash your hands.

Here are some tips to prevent pertussis:

  • Getting all of your vaccines at the recommended time is the best way to prevent pertussis.
  • If you did not get a Tetanus-Diphtheria-Pertussis (Tdap) vaccine after your 18th birthday, you should get vaccinated with one dose of this vaccine, especially if you have regular contact with babies and children. Talk to your doctor about the vaccine.
  • Tdap vaccine is safe for pregnant women.  You can get it after 26 weeks of pregnancy. Talk to your doctor if you have not had the Tdap vaccine.
  • Getting pertussis does not provide immunity, so you can get it again.  Get vaccinated against pertussis to prevent getting the disease.

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