Facts About Pertussis
What is pertussis?
Pertussis is a contagious bacterial infection that causes a coughing illness. It is caused by bacteria that are found in the mouth, nose, and throat of an infected person. Pertussis is also known as whooping cough.
What are symptoms of pertussis?
The illness begins with mild respiratory symptoms similar to a cold. The disease progresses with severe and prolonged coughing, difficulty in getting one's breath, mucous production, vomiting following coughing, and a "whooping" sound while struggling to inhale after coughing. Fever is usually absent. The disease may last 6-10 weeks in uncomplicated cases. Pertussis is most dangerous in children less than 1 year of age. Complications for infants include pneumonia, convulsions, and in rare cases, brain damage or death. Older children and adults may have milder symptoms, and serious complications are less likely to occur.
How is pertussis spread?
Pertussis bacteria are found in the nose and throat of an ill person. Pertussis is spread through droplets when infected people cough, sneeze, or talk. The greatest risk of spread is during the early stage when it appears to be a "cold". Persons with pertussis treated with antibiotics are contagious until 5 days after treatment begins.
Who may become ill with pertussis?
Pertussis can occur at any age. Severe illness is more common in young children who are unimmunized or inadequately immunized. Many cases occur in older children and adults because protection from the vaccine lasts only 5 to 10 years after the last dose.
How is pertussis diagnosed?
A special culture or smear from the nose and throat (nasopharynx) is necessary for identifying the bacteria. A routine throat culture alone is not adequate to diagnose this disease. It may take as long as 10 days to receive the results of the test.
How is pertussis treated?
Antibiotics, preferably zithromycin or erythromycin, are used to treat the disease. A person remains communicable (capable of passing on the bacteria) until he/she has been on the antibiotic for 5 days. During this time, the ill individual should remain at home to reduce the spread of the disease.
How can pertussis be prevented?
The vaccination against pertussis is included in the DTaP or DTP vaccine. Pertussis is the "P" part of the vaccine. Children less than 7 years of age should get 5 doses of the DTaP/DTP vaccine: at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 12-15 months, and at 4-6 years of age. At 11-12 years of age, a booster of Tdap is required. Adults should also be immunized with Tdap. Adult vaccination is an important measure to protect infants and children. If you have pertussis, avoid contact with others until you have taken 5 full days of the antibiotic treatment. Take all of your antibiotics. If you live with someone who has pertussis or attend the same childcare program, you should obtain preventive antibiotics from your physician.
Pertussis is a Washington State reportable disease and must be reported to your local health department. Contact Island County Public Health Department at 360.679.7351, Monday through Friday, 8AM - 4:30 PM.