Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

A Vaccine Preventable Illness

Identification and Definition

Pertussis commonly known as Whooping Cough is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection. Initially it can seem like an normal cold with a cough, but it can turn serious, especially in infants. Vaccines are the best way to prevent it and the one for kids are DTaP while the one for adults are Tdap. DTaP and Tdap protect people from whooping cough, diphtheria, and tetanus.

History of Pertussis

Pertussis was first recognized in the Middle Ages and was known as "the kink" which is a Scottish term for child's cough. The first epidemic occurred in Paris in 1578 and in 1906 Bordet and Gengou discovered B. pertussis, where they developed the first serology and vaccine. The first largest peak of pertussis reported in the US was in 1955 with 62,786 cases and in 2014 there were 32,971 cases that were reported. In 1942 the DTP vaccine was made and distributed and in 1992 the combination DTaP vaccine we use today was made.

signs and symptoms of pertussis

The symptoms of pertussis usually appear within 5-10 days after the exposure, but sometimes it can be as long as 3 weeks later.

Early symptom can last 1-2 weeks and usually are:

  • Mild, occasional cough
  • Runny nose
  • Low-grade fever
  • Apnea - pause in breathing (babies)

Pertussis is most dangerous to babies, those who are 1 year or younger. An important note is that babies who have pertussis don't cough, but have apnea and turn blue in the face.

Pertussis in the early stages can seem like a normal cold so it's usually not diagnosed until the severe symptoms are seen which include:

  • Vomiting during or after coughing fits
  • Exhaustion after coughing fits
  • Paroxysms (fits) of many, fast coughs followed by a high pitched "whoop"

Transmission of pertussis

Pertussis is found only in humans so it spreads from person to person. The disease is usually spread by coughing, sneezing, or spending a lot of time near someone's breathing space. Many babies catch the disease from infected family members, or caregivers who don't know they are infected. Those who are infected are highly contagious for up to 2 weeks after the cough starts.

complication of pertussis

Complications in pertussis can be very serious and deadly in babies and young children, more so when they aren't vaccinated. Half of the babies who are younger than 1 year old will need to be treated in a hospital for:

  • (23%) Pneumonia (lung infection)
  • (1.1%) Convulsions
  • (61%) Apnea
  • (0.3%) Encephalopathy (disease of the brain)
  • (1%) Will die

Teens and adults can also get complications, but the are usually less serious. In the older age groups complications are usually from the coughing aspect of pertussis. About 1 out 20 teens and adults need to be hospitalized for pertussis the most common complications included:

  • (5%) Pneumonia
  • (33%) Weight loss
  • (6%) Passing out
  • (4%) Rib fractures from severe coughing fit

recommended control measures for pertussis

  • Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent pertussis with DTaP for kids under 6 years of age and Tdap for those who are older; also to keep babies away from people who are more likely to be infected.
  • There are also preventative antibiotics so if someone around you had pertussis the others could take the antibiotics and prevent the spread of the disease.
  • Respiratory illnesses like pertussis can also be prevented from spreading by practicing good hygiene.
  • In the US there has been in a rise of cases of pertussis with a peak in 2012 that had 48,277 reported cases, but there were also many unreported or undiagnosed. Since 2010 there has been more cases reported among teens and children aged 7-10.
  • Worldwide, there are about 16 million cases and around 195,000 deaths per year of pertussis.