Pertussis (commonly known as whooping cough) is a highly infectious bacterial disease caused by Bordetella Pertussis bacteria. It is a serious illness in babies and young children.

What are the symptoms of Pertussis?

The first symptoms of Pertussis begin about six to ten days after infection. These symptoms are similar to a common cold and include sneezing, a runny nose, a mild fever, and a cough. After one or two weeks the cough gradually worsens into coughing attacks that can last for up to a minute. These attacks recur over a period of six to twelve weeks. A child will often make a whooping sound while gasping for air at the end of a coughing attack. The cough can be so severe that it causes the child to gag and vomit.

Pertussis can be serious in infants and young children. Complications may include pneumonia, convulsions, and brain damage, and more than half of infants less than one year of age will need hospitalization. One out of every 170 cases of infant Pertussis is fatal.

Older children and adults with Pertussis often do not have the whoop-sounding cough, and they can easily spread the bacteria to young children without knowing they have a Pertussis infection.

How can I get Pertussis?

You can get Pertussis when the bacteria comes into contact with your mouth or nose, for example when someone who has Pertussis coughs or sneezes near you and you inhale the droplets. You can also become infected by getting the droplets on your hands and then touching your nose or mouth.

Where can I get Pertussis?

Pertussis is a common disease that occurs year round throughout the world. It is a cyclical disease that peaks in various regions in two-to-five-year intervals. The World Health Organization estimates that 95 percent of Pertussis occurs in developing countries, where it is a leading cause of infant mortality.

During 2012 there was an outbreak in BC’s Lower Mainland. Outbreaks of Pertussis among teenagers and adults may be the result of the waning effectiveness of childhood vaccinations. In developed countries like Canada, babies who have not been fully immunized are at greatest risk from Pertussis.

Travellers to regions where there have been recent outbreaks of Pertussis may be at greater risk of infection, particularly young children and infants who have not been fully immunized.

What vaccines are available for Pertussis?

Beginning at two months of age, Canadian children receive a series of combination vaccines and boosters that provide immunity from Tetanus, Diphtheria, and other diseases including Pertussis. All BC students in Grade 9 get a Tdap booster that enhances their immunity to Pertussis, Tetanus, and Diphtheria.

Because protection from childhood Pertussis immunization gradually decreases, all adults are susceptible. A one-time Tdap booster is now recommended for all adults, particularly those who are or may become pregnant, and those who have close contact with very young children.

How can I prevent Pertussis?

Vaccination is the best protection against Pertussis. Parents are encouraged to make sure their children receive the Pertussis vaccine as part of the normal childhood vaccine series at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 18 months, and again at school entry and in grade 9 in BC schools. Adults who are in regular contact with young children are advised to get a Pertussis booster shot.

What is the treatment for Pertussis?

People who have Pertussis should be isolated from infants and young children while they are contagious. Antibiotics can help speed recovery from Pertussis and reduce the contagious period. Family members may also be given preventive antibiotics.

There is no treatment to relieve the coughing attacks. Over-the-counter cough medicines have very little effect and are not encouraged.