Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Quick GuideWhooping Cough (Pertussis) Symptoms, Vaccine Facts

Whooping Cough (Pertussis) Symptoms, Vaccine Facts

What causes whooping cough?

Whooping cough is caused by an infection with a bacterium known as Bordetella pertussis. The bacteria attach to the lining of the airways in the upper respiratory system and release toxins that lead to inflammation and swelling.

Most people acquire the bacteria by breathing in the bacteria that are present in droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Is whooping cough contagious?

The infection is very contagious is often is spread to infants by family members or caregivers, who may be in the early stages of infection and not realize that they are suffering from whooping cough.

What is the contagious period for whooping cough?

A person infected with pertussis is contagious (can spread the infection to others) from the onset of symptoms to around three weeks after the onset of the coughing episodes. If antibiotic treatment is given, the contagious period is reduced to about five days.

What are risk factors for whooping cough?

Whooping cough can infect anyone. Unimmunized or incompletely immunized young infants are particularly vulnerable to the infection and its complications, which can include pneumonia and seizures. The infection occurs worldwide, even in countries with well-developed vaccination programs. Adults may develop pertussis because the immunity from childhood vaccinations can wear off over time.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/28/2015

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