What is Pertussis?


Pertussis, also known as ‘whooping cough, is a contagious bacterial infection affecting the respiratory tract or the passageway connecting the nose, mouth, throat, and lungs. It is caused by Bordetella pertussis, which produces a toxin causing swelling of the airways. It usually starts with cold-like symptoms for 1-2 weeks, followed by an uncontrollable cough that can last for ten weeks. However, infants may experience breathing difficulties and not show any signs of coughing.


Pertussis is caused by a bacteria (Bordetella pertussis). Pertussis mainly affects adults whose immunity after vaccination has weakened or infants who have not received their first three vaccination doses. Pertussis is contagious via droplets that are released via sneezing or coughing. Contact with an affected person increases the risk for pertussis.


Early symptoms resemble a common cold with a runny nose, cough, and fever. Later the typical ‘whooping cough’ may develop, lasting for up to 10 weeks. Whooping cough is characterized by severe coughing attacks ending with a ‘whoop’ sound during the next breath of air. Many people may not develop the characteristic ‘whooping cough’ but experience severe uncontrollable coughing attacks. Infants may have breathing difficulties but no cough.


The treatment consists of antibiotics and rest. If severe breathing problems occur, the sick person may require admission to the hospital to treat these.


Vaccination against pertussis is available for children and adults but not newborn infants. Children are routinely vaccinated against pertussis in the first year of life, with a booster at preschool age, so keeping to the recommended vaccination schedule is essential. Family members and carers of newborns should have booster vaccinations against pertussis. Pregnant women should ensure their vaccination is up to date during the third trimester. It is essential for a person infected with pertussis to avoid social contact (work, school, public transport, etc.) to avoid infecting other people.

Other names for pertussis

  • Whooping cough

What is Pertussis?

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a⁤ highly‍ contagious bacterial infection of the respiratory tract caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria [[1]]. ⁤It primarily affects infants and young children [[3]], and can cause severe illness [[2]].

How is Pertussis Spread?

Pertussis is spread through⁤ respiratory ​droplets released into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes ⁢ [[2]]. Close contact⁢ with an infected individual significantly increases the⁢ risk of infection.

Symptoms of Pertussis

The⁢ symptoms of pertussis typically appear 7-10 days after exposure to​ the ‍bacteria [[1]] and⁣ can include:

* Runny nose

* Low-grade fever

* Mild cough

As the infection progresses, the cough becomes more severe and can be characterized by the⁢ following [[3]]:

* Violent coughing fits

* Difficulty breathing

* A ⁤distinctive “whooping” sound during⁢ inhalation

Complications of Pertussis

Pertussis can⁣ lead‍ to various complications, especially​ in infants and young children ⁢ [[1]]:

* Pneumonia

* Encephalitis (brain⁣ inflammation)

* Seizures

* Death

Diagnosis of Pertussis

Diagnosing pertussis can be challenging, as the symptoms may resemble other respiratory infections. Doctors typically‌ rely on a combination of factors,⁤ including:

* Medical history

* Physical examination

* Laboratory⁢ tests (e.g., nasopharyngeal ​swab‍ culture)

Treatment of Pertussis

Antibiotics are the primary treatment for pertussis⁢ [[1]]. Treatment should begin as soon⁢ as possible to reduce ‍the severity ⁤and duration‌ of the infection.​ In ‌severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary.

Prevention of Pertussis

Vaccination⁣ is ⁣the⁤ most effective way to ​prevent pertussis ‍ [[1]]. The pertussis‌ vaccine is typically given as part of the routine childhood immunization schedule.

Other preventive measures⁢ include:

* Avoiding contact with infected‍ individuals

* Practicing good respiratory⁤ hygiene (e.g., coughing or sneezing into ​a tissue)

* Frequent handwashing

Pertussis ‌is ⁣a serious respiratory infection that can be life-threatening, particularly in infants and ⁢young children. Vaccination is the​ most effective way to protect against this infection. If ​you suspect that you or your child may have pertussis, it is crucial ‍to seek prompt medical⁢ attention.


  1. Pertussis is a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract. It is commonly known as whooping cough because of the characteristic sound made when coughing.

  2. Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial respiratory infection that affects the lungs and airways. The infection is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis.

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