What is Pertussis or Whooping cough?
Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly contagious disease marked by severe
coughing. It is named after the “whoop” sound children and adults make when
they try to breathe in during or after a severe coughing spell.
What are the Symptoms?
Whooping cough usually starts with cold or flu-like symptoms such as runny nose,
sneezing, fever and a mild cough. These symptoms can last up to two weeks and
are followed by increasingly severe coughing spells. Fever, if present, is usually
During a classic cough episode:
Signature “whoop” is heard as the patient struggles to breathe
Cough usually produces a thick, productive mucus
Vomiting may occur
Lips and nails may turn blue due to lack of oxygen
Patient is left exhausted after the coughing spell
Mild pertussis disease is difficult to diagnose because its symptoms mimic those of
a cold. Usually a prolonged cough is present, but without the “whoop”.
What are Some Potential Complications?
Pneumonia is the most common complication and cause of infantile pertussis-
Young infants are at highest risk for pertussis-related complications, including
seizures, encephalopathy (swelling of the brain), otitis media (severe ear
infection), anorexia (severe restriction of food intake), and dehydration.
How is it Spread?
Whooping cough is caused by a bacteria that is found in the mouth, nose and
throat of an infected person, and is spread through close contact when an infected
person talks, sneezes, or coughs.
It is most contagious during the first two to three weeks of infection, often before
the beginning of severe coughing spells.
School and day care centers are a common source of infection in children.
Who Gets It?
Whooping cough (pertussis) can occur at any age, but infants and young children
are at highest risk of life-threatening consequences.
Recent outbreaks have shown that adolescents and older children carry the
disease, which in its milder form is hard to recognize. Undiagnosed mild disease
contributes to the spread of the illness among infants and young children.
Anyone – particularly infants and young children—who are un-immunized, are at a
higher risk for severe whooping cough.
How do you treat it?
Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics and patients are advised to take all
prescribed medication and avoid contact with anyone, particularly small infants
How do you prevent it?
While there is no lifelong protection against pertussis, immunization is the best
preventive measure for a child. The vaccine to protect a child against whooping
cough is the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DtaP) vaccine and should be
administered in 5 doses: at 2, 4, 6, and 15-18 months of age and 4-6 years of age.
It is very important that the child receives all 5 doses for maximum protection.
(Cache Valley Health Department) recommends that students and teachers that
have been exposed get the new vaccination to protect themselves and others
from whooping cough. Children 7 years of age or older who did not complete
their primary series of DTaP vaccinations should receive one dose of Tdap now.
All children attending schools that have cases of Pertussis who are 10 years of
age or older and have not received a Tdap booster should receive a Tdap booster
*Whooping cough is a dangerous illness. Cases have tripled in Utah and across
the country this year. Recent surges of whooping cough outbreaks have been
seen in middle and high-schools around the country. Young children are
routinely vaccinated against whooping cough, (see above: “How do you prevent
it?” recommendations) but experts now know that immunity diminishes by
*While other children usually recover, they can easily spread the illness to not-
yet-vaccinated younger siblings – and whooping cough can be deadly for them!
*The pertussis cough is so strong it can break a rib, and it can cause weeks of
misery and missed school days, sometimes living up to its nickname of the 100-