Healthy People in a Healthy Environment

Pertussis (Whooping Cough)


What is it?

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the Bordetella Pertussis bacteria.  This bacteria is found in the nose, throat, and mouth of the infected person, and can be spread easily by coughing, sneezing, etc.  A person can be contagious from 2 weeks before the onset of symptoms until up to 3 weeks after symptoms start.  Pertussis can occur at any age, but often causes serious problems such as pneumonia in babies.  This disease can be fatal to infants.

How can I prevent it?

Every child should receive the DTaP vaccine at 2, 4, 6, and 15-18 months of age, and another dose at 4-6 years of age.  Tdap vaccine should be given at age 11-12 years.  If the teen did not receive the Tdap vaccine at 11-12 years of age, they should receive it as soon as possible.  Adults should receive a dose of Tdap, especially if they have close contact with infants or young children.

The pertussis protection provided by the 5 doses of DTaP, is only effective until the child reaches age 11 or 12 years.  Therefore, it is extremely important for every teen and adult to receive the Tdap vaccine.  New parents and grandparents are highly encouraged to receive the Tdap vaccine, to protect the newborn.  Nearly 50% of pertussis cases in infants are caused by the parents.  Siblings and grandparents are the source of infection approximately 30% of the time.

Covering a cough or sneeze will help decrease exposure to others.  Handwashing, as with all communicable diseases, is essential to decrease the spread of pertussis.

Symptoms of Pertussis:

  • Low fever                                                
  • Runny nose
  • Cough that is mild at first, then severe with times of deep rapid coughing; worse at night
  • Vomiting after coughing (post-tussive vomiting)
  • “Whoop” sounding cough
  • Apnea (cessation of breathing)

Treatment of Pertussis:

If you have symptoms of pertussis, see your medical provider for testing.  Antibiotic treatment should be ordered for anyone with suspected, probable, or confirmed pertussis.  The drug of choice is Azithromycin (Z-Pack).  Erythromycin, Clarithromycin (Biaxin), or Bactrim can be used if the person is allergic to Z-Pack.