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.

View Whooping Cough (Pertussis) Slideshow

Quick GuidePertussis and Whooping Cough Pictures Slideshow: Is Your Child Protected?

Pertussis and Whooping Cough Pictures Slideshow: Is Your Child Protected?

What is the prognosis for whooping cough?

The infection gradually resolves over a period of weeks, but the coughing paroxysms can persist for several months. The prognosis is worse when complications such as bacterial pneumonia (see below) develop in a person with whooping cough. Young infants are at highest risk of serious complications and even death from whooping cough.

Data indicate that secondary pneumonia occurs in about one out of every 20 infants with whooping cough, and one out of 100 affected infants develop convulsions. Most deaths from whooping cough have occurred in children who have not been vaccinated or who are too young to have received the vaccine.

What are possible complications of whooping cough?

The most common complication and the cause of most whooping cough-related deaths is secondary bacterial pneumonia. (Secondary bacterial pneumonia is bacterial pneumonia that follows another infection of the lung, be it viral or bacterial. Secondary pneumonia is caused by a different virus or bacterium than the original infection.) Young infants are at highest risk for whooping cough and also for its associated complications, including secondary pneumonia. Other possible complications of whooping cough, particularly in infants less than 6 months of age, include seizures, encephalopathy (abnormal function of the brain due to decreased oxygen delivery to the brain caused by the episodes of coughing), reactive airway disease (asthma), dehydration, hearing loss, and malnutrition.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/28/2015
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