Pertussis, a respiratory illness commonly known as whooping cough, is a very contagious disease caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. These bacteria attach to the cilia (tiny, hair-like extensions) that line part of the upper respiratory system. The bacteria release toxins, which damage the cilia and cause airways to swell.
Pertussis, a.k.a. Whooping Cough
- Pertussis is also known as “whooping cough” because of the “whooping” sound that is made when gasping for air.
- Coughing fits due to pertussis infection can last for up to 10 weeks or more; this disease is sometimes known as the “100 day cough.”
- Pertussis can cause serious illness in babies, children, teens, and adults and can even be life-threatening, especially in babies.
Pertussis usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough or fever.
Early symptoms can last for 1 to 2 weeks and usually include:
- Runny nose
- Low-grade fever (generally minimal throughout the course of the disease)
- Mild, occasional cough
- Apnea – a pause in breathing (in babies)
After 1 to 2 weeks and as the disease progresses, the traditional symptoms of pertussis may appear and include:
- Paroxysms (fits) of many, rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched “whoop”
- Vomiting (throwing up) during or after coughing fits
- Exhaustion (very tired) after coughing fits
Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing, over and over, until the air is gone from the lungs and you are forced to inhale with a loud “whooping” sound. This extreme coughing can cause you to vomit and be very tired.
10,000 - 40,000THE NUMBER OF PERTUSSIS CASES REPORTED EACH YEAR.
20APPROXIMATE NUMBER OF DEATHS FROM PERTUSSIS EACH YEAR IN THE UNITED STATES.
16 MILLIONTHE NUMBER OF PERTUSSIS CASES WORLDWIDE PER YEAR.
Pertussis is spread from person-to-person, when an ill individual coughs or sneezes or when they spend a lot of time near one another, sharing breathing space.
Infected people are most contagious up to about two weeks after the cough begins. Antibiotics may shorten the amount of time someone is contagious.
While pertussis vaccines are the most effective tool we have to prevent this disease, no vaccine is 100 percent effective, and it is recommended to revaccinate about every 10 years as an adult as immunity from the pertussis vaccine can wane. If pertussis is circulating in the community, there is a chance that a fully vaccinated person, of any age, can catch this very contagious disease. If you have been vaccinated but still get sick, the infection is usually not as bad.
As with any respiratory illness, practicing good hygiene is recommended to prevent spreading pertussis.
Pertussis is generally treated with antibiotics and early treatment is very important. Treatment may make your infection less serious if it is started early, before coughing fits begin. Treatment can also help prevent spreading the disease to close contacts (people who have spent a lot of time around the infected person). Treatment after three weeks of illness is unlikely to help because the bacteria are gone from your body, even though you usually will still have symptoms. This is because the bacteria have already done damage to your body.