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Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

By Gina DiRenzo-Coffey, M.D.

Whooping Cough

Whooping Cough, or Pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection that causes uncontrollable coughing. The cough is usually accompanied by a “whoop” noise that occurs when the child tries to inhale after coughing.

Symptoms of Whooping Cough

Once a child is exposed and infected with the Pertussis bacteria, it can take several weeks for the signs and symptoms to occur. Initial symptoms are similar to the common cold and can include:

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Mild fever
  • Dry cough

A week or two after the initial infection, signs and symptoms worsen due to thick mucus that accumulates inside the airways, causing an uncontrollable coughing that can last up to 10 weeks and sometimes several months. In addition to coughing, the child may experience:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Choking
  • Fatigue
  • Short loss of consciousness
  • A "whoop" sound while breating after cough

Treatment of Whooping Cough

Treatment varies depending on the age of the child. Babies and young children are most severely affected by whooping cough and are at a higher risk of developing complications that may require hospitalization. Older children with pertussis may be managed at home, depending on the stage of the bacteria.

If you feel your child has been exposed to the bacteria or has pertussis, contact your physician immediately. Your child’s doctor may prescribe antibiotics, as well as recommend getting plenty of rest and fluids.

Prevention of Whooping Cough

Whooping cough can be prevented with the pertussis vaccine. The vaccine series is usually administered with other common vaccines at routine well checks. Since the vaccine fades over time, it is recommended that everyone repeat the vaccine every 10 years.​​