Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious disease of the respiratory tract. Pertussis is a disease of the mucous membranes lining the air passages. Bacteria found in the mouth, nose, and throat of the infected individual cause it. Pertussis is spread when the infected person coughs or sneezes, expelling droplets containing the bacteria.

Pertussis starts as a mild upper respiratory infection. First symptoms resemble the common cold, including sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever, and a mild cough. Within two weeks, the cough becomes worse. Pertussis causes coughing spells that are so severe that it is difficult for infants and children to eat, drink, or breathe. Individuals with pertussis have episodes of rapid, spasmodic coughing followed by an intake breath that sounds like a “whoop”. The coughing spells are more violent at night and can last from one to two months. It can also lead to pneumonia, middle ear infection, seizure activity, brain damage or death.

Immunizing starting at infancy can prevent pertussis. The pertussis vaccine, given in combination with the diphtheria and tetanus vaccine, is given in a series of five injections over time, starting at age two months. Since the widespread use of the vaccine began, cases of pertussis have decreased by 99The single most effective means for preventing pertussis is maintaining the highest level of immunization in the community.