Banner Health Services  

Pertussis or whooping cough

Tammy Beahm  

Tammy Beahm, RN, is the Infection Control Practitioner for Banner Thunderbird Medical Center Infection Control.

Quesion:  What is pertussis?

Answer:  Bordetella pertussis is more commonly known as “whooping cough”.  It is highly contagious and is spread by contact with aerosolized droplets produced by coughing or sneezing.  The incubation period is from six -21 days, usually seven -10 days, after exposure to a person with pertussis.

Question:  What are the symptoms of pertussis?

Answer:  Pertussis starts with a runny nose and slight cough; usually with no fever.  The cough worsens over one-two weeks with bouts of violent coughing lasting several minutes.  Bouts of coughing are often followed by vomiting.  Bluish facial color change and apnea (pauses in breathing) is common in infants.

In older infants and preschool children, the cough may be followed by a “whooping sound”.  Older children and adults typically have a persistent cough with no “whoop”.

Question:  Can adults really get pertussis? 

Answer:  Yes.  Although pertussis is thought of as a childhood disease, adults can get it too, as vaccination protection received as a child wanes (lessens) after the age of 12.  Unfortunately, many adults with pertussis are not treated by their doctor and pass it along to others, particularly young children.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, pertussis is most serious for babies under one year of age.  Pertussis can also lead to other serious health problems.  Approximately one in 10 children gets pneumonia and  about 20 in every 1,000 suffers convulsions..

Question:  How is pertussis diagnosed and treated? 

Answer:  Pertussis is diagnosed by obtaining a swab or aspirate from person’s nose or throat . Antimicrobials are recommended for the treatment of pertussis cases.  Cases should be treated as early in the course of illness as possible. Symptoms may not necessarily resolve with treatment, however, if treatment is started early in the course of illness, symptoms may be lessened. Cases will become noninfectious after completing five days of appropriate antibiotic treatment.

Question:  How is pertussis prevented?

Answer:  Pertussis outbreaks occur every year because children (and adults) are not immunized.  But young children, adolescents and adults can receive the pertussis vaccine. Be sure to always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.  Put your used tissue in the waste basket.  Always clean your hands after coughing or sneezing with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Page Last Modified: 02/22/2010
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