Pertussis, also known as "whooping" cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease. The bacteria that causes pertussis is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing, which could make it difficult to breathe. Pertussis can affect people of all ages.


Pertussis spreads from person to another. People infected with the bacteria usually spread the disease to another person by coughing or sneezing or when spending a lot of time near one another. Infected people are most contagious up to about 2 weeks after the cough begins.

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of pertussis usually develop within 5 to 10 days after exposure. Sometimes it may take as long as 3 weeks for symptoms to develop.

Early symptoms

The disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough or fever. Early symptoms can last for 1 to 2 weeks and can include:

  • A runny nose
  • Low-grade fever
  • Mild, occasional cough
  • Apnea

Later-stage symptoms

After those initial weeks, traditional symptoms may appear as the disease progresses and may include:

  • Rapid coughing (high-pitched “whoop” sound)
  • Vomiting during or after coughing fits
  • Exhaustion after coughing

Recovery can happen slowly. However, coughing fits can return with other respiratory infections for many months after the infection started.


The best way to prevent pertussis (whooping cough) is to get vaccinated. Keeping in mind that vaccine protection can fade with time, it is important to received booster shots every 10 years. If you or a member of your household has been diagnosed with pertussis, you may be recommended preventive antibiotics. You should practice good hygiene by

  • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue/upper sleeve when you cough or sneeze
  • Discard used tissues
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water
  • Use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available

If you are experiencing signs and symptoms of pertussis, please seek medical care immediately.