What is the definition of Pertussis?

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing. The coughing can make it hard to breathe. A deep "whooping" sound is often heard when the person tries to take a breath.

What are the alternative names for Pertussis?

Whooping cough

What are the causes for Pertussis?

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is an upper respiratory infection. It is caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. It is a serious disease that can affect people of any age and cause permanent disability in infants, and even death.

When an infected person sneezes or coughs, tiny droplets containing the bacteria move through the air. The disease is easily spread from person to person.

The symptoms of infection often lasts 6 weeks, but it can last as long as 10 weeks.

What are the symptoms for Pertussis?

Initial symptoms are similar to the common cold. In most cases, they develop about a week after exposure to the bacteria.

Severe episodes of coughing start about 10 to 12 days later. In infants and young children, the coughing sometimes ends with a "whoop" noise. The sound is produced when the person tries to take a breath. The whoop noise is rare in infants under 6 months of age and in older children or adults.

Coughing spells may lead to vomiting or a short loss of consciousness. Pertussis should always be considered when vomiting occurs with coughing. In infants, choking spells and long pauses in breathing are common.

Other pertussis symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Slight fever, 102°F (38.9°C) or lower
  • Diarrhea

What are the current treatments for Pertussis?

If started early enough, antibiotics such as erythromycin can make the symptoms go away more quickly. Unfortunately, most people are diagnosed too late, when antibiotics aren't very effective. However, the medicines can help reduce the person's ability to spread the disease to others.

Infants younger than 18 months need constant supervision because their breathing may temporarily stop during coughing spells. Infants with severe cases should be hospitalized.

An oxygen tent with high humidity may be used.

Fluids may be given through a vein if coughing spells are severe enough to prevent the person from drinking enough fluids.

Sedatives (medicines to make you sleepy) may be prescribed for young children.

Cough mixtures, expectorants, and suppressants are most often not helpful. These medicines should NOT be used.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Pertussis?

In older children, the outlook is most often very good. Infants have the highest risk for death, and need careful monitoring.

What are the possible complications for Pertussis?

Complications may include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Convulsions
  • Seizure disorder (permanent)
  • Nosebleeds
  • Ear infections
  • Brain damage from lack of oxygen
  • Bleeding in the brain (cerebral hemorrhage)
  • Intellectual disability
  • Slowed or stopped breathing (apnea)
  • Death

When should I contact a medical professional for Pertussis?

Call your provider if you or your child develops symptoms of pertussis.

Call 911 or get to an emergency room if the person has any of the following symptoms:

  • Bluish skin color, which indicates a lack of oxygen
  • Periods of stopped breathing (apnea)
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • High fever
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Dehydration

How do I prevent Pertussis?

DTaP vaccination, one of the recommended childhood immunizations, protects children against pertussis infection. DTaP vaccine can be safely given to infants. Five DTaP vaccines are recommended. They are most often given to children at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years.

The TdaP vaccine should be given at age 11 or 12.

During a pertussis outbreak, unimmunized children under age 7 should not attend school or public gatherings. They should also be isolated from anyone known or suspected to be infected. This should last until 14 days after the last reported case.

It is also recommended that adults age 19 and older receive 1 dose of the TdaP vaccine against pertussis.

TdaP is especially important for health care professionals and anyone having close contact with a baby younger than 12 months old.

Pregnant women should get a dose of TdaP during every pregnancy between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy, to protect the newborn from pertussis.



Kim DK, Hunter P. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended immunization schedule for adults aged 19 years or older - United States, 2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019;68(5):115-118. PMID: 30730868 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30730868.

Robinson CL, Bernstein H, Romero JR, Szilagyi P; Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) Child/Adolescent Immunization Work Group. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended immunization schedule for children and adolescents aged 18 years or younger - United States, 2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019;68(5):112-114. PMID: 30730870 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30730870.

Souder E, Long SS. Pertussis (Bordetella pertussis and Bordetella parapertussis). In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 224.

United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Vaccine information statement: Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis). www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/tdap.pdf. Updated February 24, 2015. Accessed September 5, 2019.

Sophie Guillot
Paris, FR
Nicole Guiso
Nicole Guiso
Paris, FR
Camille Locht
Ulrich Heininger
Ulrich Heininger
Basel, CH
Elke Leuridan
Antwerpen, VLG, BE
Sylvain Brisse
  • Condition: Vaccination During Pregnancy
  • Journal: Praxis
  • Treatment Used: Influenza and Pertussis
  • Number of Patients: 0
  • Published —
This article discusses vaccinations administered to women during pregnancy, specifically influenza and pertussis.
  • Condition: Infant Pertussis
  • Journal: JAMA pediatrics
  • Treatment Used: Monovalent Acellular Pertussis Vaccine
  • Number of Patients: 440
  • Published —
This study tested the safety and immunogenicity of using a monovalent acellular pertussis vaccine on infants to prevent severe pertussis.