Public Health Fact Sheet - Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
What is Petussis?
Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease. It is often mild in older children and adults; however, in younger children it can lead to complications including pneumonia, inflammation of the brain and in rare cases death.
What are the symptoms of Pertussis?
The early symptoms of pertussis often begin like a cold, with a runny nose, sneezing, fever and cough. The cough lasts 1-2 weeks and gradually becomes worse. The next stage of pertussis includes uncontrolled coughing spells followed by a whooping noise when a person breathes in. During these sever coughing spells, a person may vomit, or their lips or face may look blue from a lack of oxygen. Between coughing spells, a person may appear well. This stage usually lasts 4-6 weeks. Very young infants (<6 months of age), adolescents and adults may not have these symptoms.
Who gets Pertussis?
Pertussis can occur at any age, but is most common in children less than 1 year of age.
How is Pertussis spread?
The bacteria are found in the mouths, noses, and throats of infected people. The bacteria are spread in the air by droplets produced during sneezing or coughing. Symptoms usually appear 7-10 days after by inhaling these droplets.
How long can a person spread Pertussis?
Pertussis is very contagious during the early stage of the illness and becomes less contagious by the end of 3 weeks. Antibiotics will shorten the contagious period of the illness.
How is Pertussis diagnosed?
A sample of mucus from the back of the nose must be taken during the early stage of the illness in order to grow the bacteria. Laboratory tests can be done on the sample to identify the bacteria.
How is Pertussis treated?
Infants less than 6 months of age and persons with severe cases often require hospitalization and severe cases may require oxygen and mild sedation to help control coughing spells. Antibiotics may make the illness less severe if started in the early stage of the disease.
How can Pertussis be prevented?
•Giving a series of shots to children in early infancy can prevent pertussis. Pertussis vaccine is given at 2, 4, 6, and 15 monthss of age, and again when a child enters school. At least 3-4 doses are necessary to protect a child from pertussis.
•Prompt use of antibiotics in a household is helpful in limiting other cases. In a daycare setting, antibiotics should be given to household contacts and other close contacts. Children who develop symptoms within 14 days of exposure should be excluded from day care until a diagnosis can be made.
Where can I get more information?
• Your local health department
• Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Epidemiologic Services Section (877) 427-7317
• Your doctor, nurse, or local health center