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Pertussis - "whooping cough"

Facts and resources

What is pertussis?
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a contagious illness that is spread when an infected person sneezes or coughs and another individual breathes in the bacteria.

Who gets pertussis?
Pertussis can occur at any age. It may be very severe in infants and young children (especially those who have not had 3 doses of pertussis vaccine), resulting in hospitalization, seizures, long-term neurological problems, and even death. Pertussis can occur in immunized individuals, because the immunity gained from vaccination typically wanes over time. Although widespread use of pertussis vaccines had reduced the number of pertussis cases, this disease has been increasing in recent years.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

Pertussis fact sheets, resources for schools, resources for health care professionals, Colorado data and statistics

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Pertussis causes, transmission, signs and symptoms, vaccinations, outbreaks, laboratory information, fast facts, surveillance and reporting

What are the symptoms of pertussis?
Symptoms usually appear between 7 to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria, but can develop 4 to 21 days after exposure. The disease starts with cold-type symptoms: low-grade fever, runny nose and mild cough. Within two weeks, the cough becomes more severe and is characterized by episodes of fits of coughing. Vomiting, breathlessness, a change in facial color, and/or whooping sound may follow the coughing fits. In between coughing fits, the individual may look and feel fine. These coughing fits may continue for several months, and are more frequent at night.

In infants, the cough can be minimal or not even there. Infants may have a symptom known as "apnea." Apnea is a pause in the child's breathing pattern. People who think they have pertussis should be evaluated by a physician.

How is pertussis spread?
Pertussis is spread through droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. The first symptoms usually appear 7 to 10 days after exposure. The greatest risk of spread is during the early stages of the illness through the first three weeks of coughing. Those treated with antibiotics are considered contagious until they have completed 5 days of an appropriate antibiotic.

whooping-cough-preventionWhooping Cough information for parents

What are the complications of pertussis?
In infants younger than 1 year of age who get pertussis, more than half (57%) must be hospitalized. The younger the infant, the more likely treatment in the hospital will be needed. Complications for infants with pertussis include:

• pneumonia (lung infection)
• convulsions (violent, uncontrolled shaking)
• apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)
• encephalopathy (disease of the brain)
• death

Teens and adults can also get complications from pertussis, but they are usually less serious in this older age group, especially in those who have been vaccinated.
The most common complications in teens and adults with pertussis are:

• Weight loss
• Loss of bladder control
• Passing out
• Rib fractures from severe coughing

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