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What is Pertussis? Symptoms Complications Treatment and Prevention

Updated on July 14, 2012


Pertussis, or the more familiar term, Whooping Cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis.

Pertussis is spread to others by direct contact. If one has close contact with someone infected, secretions from the nose, throat and mouth of an infected person may be easily transmitted through droplets from a cough or sneeze.

It is difficult to know the signs of Pertussis until it appears as such. Pertussis appears as a common cold with a cough, however, the cough eventually becomes worse. The bacteria within causes the breathing tubes to narrow, to inflame. Therefore the infected person finds him/herself gasping for air that leads to vomiting and/or a high-pitched "whoop" sound.

A person with pertussis may be contagious 2 weeks prior and up to 2 weeks after symptoms begin. That is why it is especially important to remember to wash your hands regularly and cover your cough. And if you are sick, stay home and avoid contact with infants, especially those who are under 12 months of age.

Anyone with pertussis should not attend childcare, school, work, or other public places until they have completed 5 days of an appropriate antibiotic treatment.

Sounds of Pertussis

Symptoms of Pertussis

Symptoms of Pertussis are:

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Red, watery eyes
  • A mild fever
  • Dry cough

As previously stated, Pertussis can resemble a cold. Symptoms usually appear 3-12 days after infection. Although it is hard to determine if a regular cold or Pertussis there are a couple things that can make it clearer.

Pertussis does not cease with the use of over-the-counter medication. Symptoms remain. Also, the coughing fits tend to worsen at night.

After a week or two of being affected the symptoms worsen:

  • Coughing with thick phlegm discharge
  • Coughing leads to vomiting
  • Coughing attacks cause a red or blue face
  • Coughing causes extreme fatigue
  • High-pitched "whoop" sound is present

If these symptoms are present but the "whoop" is not, that DOES NOT mean you aren't infected. Not everyone gets the "whoop" sound. A persistent hacking cough is a clear sign of infection, infants are more prone to the "whoop."

A Mothers Story


Infants, especially those younger than 4 months, are typically hospitalized. Hospitalization is required to monitor the infants tolerance of coughing spells, to make sure the infant is receiving proper nutrients and hydration, and to monitor the childs Oxygen sats.

For teens or adults the treatment is antibiotics- if treated ealry enough! Unfortunately, most patients are diagnosed too late, when antibiotics aren't very effective.But, by taking the antibiotics it can reduce the spread to others.


The DTaP vaccination is your best defense. They are usually given to children at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years. Tdap booster for adolescents and adults.

According to the CDC, since the 1980s, there's been an increase in the number of cases of pertussis, especially among teens (10–19 years of age) and babies less than 6 months of age. In 2009 there were nearly 17,000 reported cases including 14 deaths from pertussis nationally.

Pertussis is hitting even harder this year.

  • California states they have the most cases reported in over 63 years!
  • In Ohio, Columbus Public Health (CPH) and Franklin County Board of Health (FCBH) are responding to an outbreak of pertussis during 2010. As of November 27, there were 854 cases reported by Columbus and Franklin Counties for this year
  • In Michigan, an increase in pertussis was first observed in the second half of 2008, continued throughout 2009, and has continued to date throughout 2010

The main reason Whooping Cough is back in the news is lack of children being vaccinated. Also, parents immunizations are fading in effectiveness, meaning they can transfer it to their very young children without being aware.


Pertussis is not a cold that will fade, it is a serious, highly contagious illness that needs to be stopped in it's tracks!

Get yourself a booster and make sure your children are vaccinated. The complications are too risky for anyone.

Complications of Pertussis:


  • Seizures
  • Brain damage
  • Pneumonia
  • Apnea (stop breathing or slowed breathing
  • Ear Infections
  • Fatigue
  • Death

Teens and Adults

  • Rib Fractures
  • Weight Loss
  • Urinary Incontinence
  • Abdominal Hernia
  • Fatigue

The last thing this World needs is another pandemic to worry about. But that is exactly where we are headed unless we get ourselves and our children vaccinated against Pertussis. Stay informed and make the right decision for you and your loved ones...


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