Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

A Vaccine Preventable Illness

Identification and Definition

Pertussis is a respiratory disease that is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It is a very contagious illness. People of all ages can be affected by Pertussis, but it is very dangerous in children that are less than 1 year of age. There are vaccinations for people of all ages.

Signs and Symptoms

It can take up to 3 weeks after exposure to develop symptoms but it is usually more like 5-10 days.

Early Symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Mild fever
  • Mild cough
  • Apnea (pause in breathing) - in babies

Later Stage Symptoms:

  • Many rapid cough fits (Paroxysms) ending with a high pitched "whoop"
  • Vomiting during or after cough fits
  • Very tired after coughing

History of Pertussis

Pertussis was first recognized in the Middle Ages and was described as "the kink", meaning fit. In 1578, the first epidemic happened in Paris. The causative agent, B. pertussis, was isolated in 1906 and was said to be vaccine worthy because of the devastation of the disease. The first vaccine was experimented with in 1933 and some form of protection was reported.

Transmission of Pertussis

Pertussis is very contagious and spread from person to person by coughing or sneezing. A person can be contagious for up to 2 weeks after the cough develops. At times, it is transmitted without the contagious person knowing they are carrying the disease.

Complications of Pertussis

Babies and Children

Babies and Children have more serious complications due to Pertussis than teens and adult do. About half of the babies under 1 year of age who get Pertussis will end up needing hospital care. The statistics for those infants are:

  • 1 out of 4 (23%) get pneumonia (lung infection)
  • 1 out of 100 (1.1%) will have convulsions (violent, uncontrolled shaking)
  • 3 out of 5 (61%) will have apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)
  • 1 out of 300 (0.3%) will have encephalopathy (disease of the brain)
  • 1 out of 100 (1%) will die

Teens and Adults

Teens and adults have much less serious complications due to Pertussis. One study showed that less than 5% of teens and adults with Pertussis needed hospital care. 2% of those patients were diagnosed with Pneumonia. The most common complications are:

  • Weight loss in 1 out of 3 (33%) adults
  • Loss of bladder control in 1 out of 3 (28%) adults
  • Passing out in 3 out of 50 (6%) adults
  • Rib fractures from severe coughing in 1 out of 25 (4%) adults

Current and Recommended Control Measures

The best way to prevent Pertussis is to get vaccinated. The vaccine for children is called DTaP while the booster for pre-teens, teens, and adults is called Tdap. There are 5 doses for children that are 2 months - 6 years old and one dose of Tdap is recommended for people 11 years and older, with the preferred time frame being 11-12 years old.