Bordetella pertussis bacteria
(Courtesy of the CDC Public Health Image Library)
What is pertussis (Whooping Cough)?
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease. It is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis.
How do people get pertussis?
Transmission most commonly occurs through contact with respiratory droplets, or by contact with airborne droplets of respiratory secretions. Transmission occurs less frequently by contact with freshly contaminated articles of an infected person.
What are the symptoms of pertussis?
Pertussis begins as a mild upper respiratory infection; initially, symptoms resemble those of a common cold. The early symptoms include: sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever, and a mild cough. Within one to two weeks, the cough becomes more severe. As the disease progresses, the traditional symptoms of pertussis appear and include:
- Paroxysms (fits) of many, rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched "whoop",
- Vomiting (throwing up), or
- Exhaustion (very tired) after coughing fits
How is pertussis diagnosed?
Pertussis can be diagnosed by taking into consideration the following:
- An exposure to pertussis,
- The history and physical examination of a possible case, and
- Laboratory testing (B. pertussis culture or PCR testing).
What is the treatment for pertussis?
The medical management of pertussis cases is primarily supportive, although antibiotics are of some value. Erythromycin is the drug of choice. This therapy eradicates the organism from secretions, thereby decreasing communicability and, if initiated early, may modify the course of the illness. An antibiotic effective against pertussis (such as azithromycin or erythromycin) should be administered to all close contacts of persons with pertussis, regardless of age and vaccination status.
What can be done to prevent the spread of pertussis?
The best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated. There are vaccines for children, pre-teens, teens and adults. The childhood vaccine is called DTaP, and the pertussis booster vaccine for adolescents and adults is called Tdap. Talk to your healthcare provider about getting vaccinated against pertussis.
As stated in the previous section, treatment of cases with certain antibiotics can shorten the contagious period. Individuals that have or may have pertussis should stay away from young children and infants until properly treated.