Pertussis Information

posted Nov 14, 2017, 11:21 AM by Angela Avramidis   [ updated Nov 14, 2017, 11:28 AM ]


What is pertussis? 
Pertussis (also called whooping cough) is a disease caused by bacteria that spreads from person to person with close contact. Pertussis is often mild in older children and adults, but can cause serious problems in infants.

Who gets pertussis?
In MA, pertussis is most common among people 10-20 years old who have lost the protection they got from childhood vaccines. Infants are also likely to get the disease since they are often too young to have full protection from the vaccine.

What are the symptoms? 
Pertussis is a cough illness whose symptoms can range from mild to severe. It usually begins with cold-like symptoms, with a runny nose, sneezing and dry cough. The cough lasts for a week or two, then slowly gets worse. The next stage, which may last from four to six weeks, may be marked by coughing spells that are uncontrollable and may be followed by vomiting. Between spells, the person may appear to be well and usually there is no fever. These typical symptoms are more common in infants and young children. Vaccinated children, teens and adults may have milder symptoms that can seem like bronchitis.

How is pertussis spread?
The germs that cause pertussis live in the nose, mouth and throat and are sprayed into the air when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks. Other people can then inhale the germs in the droplets produced by the person with pertussis. Touching a tissue or sharing a cup used by someone with the disease can also spread the disease. The first symptoms usually appear 7 to 10 days after a person is exposed, although sometimes people do not get sick for up to 21 days after their last exposure.

How is pertussis diagnosed?
A doctor may think a patient has pertussis based on their symptoms, however, a culture or blood test are the only ways to be sure. The culture is taken by swab from the back of the nose if the patient has been coughing for two weeks or less. In children 11 years and older, a blood test can be done when the cough has persisted for longer than two weeks.

How can pertussis be prevented? 
Although DTaP vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) usually provides adequate protection against pertussis to children, the effects of the vaccine wear off over time, leaving most teens and adults at risk of the disease. However, a vaccine for teens and adults, called Tdap, is now recommended to give protection against pertussis in these age groups. Tdap is given as a single “booster” dose. If you have not yet had a dose of Tdap, contact your healthcare provider to discuss receiving this vaccine. Antibiotics are sometimes given to help prevent illness in the contacts of someone with pertussis, or to decrease infectiousness in someone with pertussis. After five days of treatment a case is no longer contagious.

What should I do? 
If pertussis symptoms develop, you should contact your child’s health care provider so that he/she can be tested and treated. People who are symptomatic and who have had close contact with a case of pertussis will be excluded from public activities until they have completed 5 days of appropriate antibiotic therapy.

Please follow this link for more information from the Immunization Action Coalition. You can also find more Pertussis information at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.