Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

What it is: More commonly referred to as the whooping cough, pertussis is an upper respiratory bacterial infection that causes coughing spells so bad that is it hard for infants to eat, drink or breathe. These spells can last for weeks at a time and can lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and even death.

How it spreads: Respiratory droplets from the nose and mouth transmit the disease from person to person. Airborne bacteria released during a coughing fit can also carry the disease to a person nearby.

What it causes: Pertussis’ major symptom is severe coughing fits that cause the infected person to “whoop” as they take a breath. Initially, pertussis’ symptoms are similar to the common cold. Other symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Short loss of consciousness
  • Choking
  • Runny nose
  • Slight fever
  • Diarrhea

 
What to do: If the illness is caught early, antibiotics can reduce symptoms quickly. Even when antibiotics are administered too late in the diagnosis, medicine can limit the contagious bacterial spread. Children with pertussis should be constantly supervised and monitored. Older children should be kept on bed rest.
The DTaP vaccine is recommended to protect children against the pertussis disease. A series of five immunizations are given to children at two, four, six and 12-15 months of age, as well as four to six years of age. Vaccination with Td continues in 10-year intervals throughout life, with a one-time dose of Tdap given starting at age 11 and older to protect against pertussis.