Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

What is pertussis?
Pertussis, also called whooping cough, is a very contagious infection of the respiratory tract. It is caused by a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis. It occurs more often in children and adolescents, but adults can also develop pertussis. 
What are the symptoms of pertussis?
Pertussis starts like a common cold with sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever and a mild cough that then develops into severe coughing spells. The coughing spells may last as long as 6 to 12 weeks. The disease gets its common name from the "whoop" sound people often make as they try to catch their breath after one of these coughing spells. The coughing spells begin very abruptly and may end with vomiting. Infants less than 6 months old, and teenagers and adults, often do not have the whoop-sounding cough, so anyone who has a persistent cough should see a health care provider to make sure the cough is not pertussis. 
How do you get pertussis?

Pertussis is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes and the bacteria are spread into the air and other people breathe them in. You can also become infected through direct contact with discharges from the nose or throat of an infected person. If you are not protected against pertussis through vaccination, you can become ill with this disease. 

You are more likely to get pertussis if you are in close contact with someone who has the disease. Pertussis often spreads among family members, in schools and in other situations where there is very close contact between people.

When is pertussis contagious?
Pertussis is contagious in the early stage before the coughing spells develops, and for 3 weeks after the coughing spells begin. It is no longer contagious after 5 days of antibiotic treatment. Children with pertussis should not attend school or child care until 5 days after the start of antibiotic treatment. 
Is pertussis dangerous?
Young children who have not been vaccinated are at greater risk for serious complications than older children and adults. Sometimes, but not often, pertussis can cause pneumonia, convulsions or seizures, and/or encephalopathy (brain damage).  In Canada, pertussis kills one to three infants per year, usually those who are unvaccinated or under vaccinated. 
Is there treatment for pertussis?
A person with pertussis is usually given antibiotics. A person who has been in close contact with someone who has pertussis may also be given antibiotics. This includes all household contacts where there is an infant less than one year old or a pregnant woman in her third trimester.
How can children be protected?

The best way to protect children against pertussis is to have them immunized. The pertussis vaccine is part of the routine childhood vaccine schedule, which is given at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 18 months old, at 4 to 6 years of age and again at 14 to 16 years of age. If pertussis is circulating in your child's school or child care facility, watch for symptoms and contact your health care provider if these symptoms develop.

For further information call Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744, visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca or the website listed below: 

Contact Us