Jul 20

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Fact Sheet for Pertussis (“Whooping Cough”)

What is pertussis?

Pertussis, also called “whooping cough,” is a contagious disease caused by bacteria.  Pertussis is usually mild in older children and adults, but it often causes serious problems in babies less than one year of age.
What are the symptoms of pertussis?
Pertussis symptoms have three stages.  The first stage (which lasts one to two weeks) begins like a cold, with a runny nose, sneezing, mild fever, and cough which slowly gets worse.  The second stage is marked by uncontrolled coughing spells and a whooping noise (in young children) when the person breathes in.    During severe coughing spells, a person may vomit or become blue in the face from lack of air.  Between coughing spells, the person often appears to be well.  The coughing spells may be so bad that it is hard for babies to eat, drink, or breathe normally.  As ill persons recover in the third stage, the coughing symptoms gradually decrease over several weeks to a few months.  Adults, teens, and vaccinated children often have milder symptoms that mimic bronchitis or asthma.
How is pertussis spread?
Pertussis is spread when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or talks.  The first symptoms usually appear about 7 to 10 days after a person has been exposed.
Who gets pertussis?
Pertussis is most common among infants less than a year old, but anyone can get it.  Pertussis can be harder to diagnose in very young infants, teens, and adults because their symptoms often look like a cold with a nagging cough.
Is pertussis dangerous?
It can be, especially for infants or those with certain illnesses, such as lung disease.  Pertussis can cause breathing problems, pneumonia, and swelling of the brain, which can lead to seizures and brain damage.  Pertussis can also cause death (rarely), especially in very young infants.
How is pertussis diagnosed?
A doctor may think a patient has pertussis because of the symptoms, but a sample of mucus must be taken from the back of the nose for testing.  This sample is then tested by a laboratory to determine whether the patient has pertussis.
How is pertussis treated?
Antibiotics can make the disease milder if they are started early enough, and will help to prevent transmission of the illness to others.  Anyone who has been a close contact of someone that has contracted pertussis should also be given antibiotics to prevent the disease, even if they were vaccinated and have no symptoms.  Household contacts and daycare contacts to a known case of pertussis are considered close contacts.  Other close contacts are those individuals that have had face-to-face exposure within three feet of a symptomatic patient or those individuals sharing the same confined space in close proximity for more than one hour.  In addition to antibiotics, it is helpful to get plenty of rest, nutritious foods, and fluids.  Treatment for young children may include supportive therapy such as fluids, oxygen, and mild sedation to help the child during the prolonged periods of coughing.
Can pertussis be prevented?
Yes, there is a vaccine to prevent pertussis.  It is given along with diphtheria and tetanus vaccines in the same shot (called DTaP).  Five doses of vaccine, given in a series starting at 2 months of age, are needed to protect a child from pertussis.  The DTaP vaccine works for most children, but it can wear off after a number of years.  The DTaP vaccine is not given to persons 7 years of age or older.  For ages 10-64, there is another vaccine available called Tdap that is recommended.  No pertussis containing vaccine is licensed for administration to children aged 7, 8, or 9 years.
Pertussis or whooping cough is extremely serious.  It can last for weeks or months and can lead to serious complications.  That is why experts recommend that all infants and children be given a full series of DTaP vaccine unless there is a medical reason not to receive the vaccine.
Children with pertussis are not allowed to return to school or daycare until a prescribed round of antibiotic therapy is complete, or for three weeks after symptoms begin if antibiotics are not given. 
For more information, contact your local health department: (606)723-5181
or visit the Centers for Disease Control website at: www.cdc.gov.
The information contained in this document was obtained from the Centers for Disease Control.

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