What is pertussis?

Pertussis is a very contagious disease of the respiratory tract caused by bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis is also known as “whooping cough” due to the “whoop” sound made when the infected person tries to breathe after hard coughing and choking spells. Children younger than 6 months of age may not have the strength to have a “whoop.” Also, many adults and teenagers with pertussis do not have a classic “whoop.” Pertussis symptoms include:

  • Cough which becomes more severe after 1 to 2 weeks, cough often lasts for more than a month
  • Low grade fever
  • Runny nose

During coughing attacks, the lips and nails may turn blue for lack of air. Vomiting can occur with severe episodes. In between coughing episodes people may feel and appear fairly healthy. Some report that coughing is worse at night. In children less than 1 year old, complications include pneumonia, convulsions, and, in rare cases, brain damage. The majority of deaths from pertussis occur in infants younger than 2 months of age. Call your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Unusual cough lasting 7 days or more (with or without "whoop")
  • Cough that comes in bursts (intermittent)
  • Vomiting after coughing spells

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1. What is pertussis?
2. Why the increase in pertussis cases?
3. When should I vaccinate?