Whooping Cough (Pertussis): Symptoms & Signs

  • 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.

Medically Reviewed on 4/10/2019

Pertussis is the medical name for whooping cough. Pertussis is highly contagious. Early symptoms of pertussis are similar to those of the common cold, such as sneezing, runny nose, and mild fever. The second stage (paroxysmal stage) of the illness produces the characteristic cough or "whoop" sound. In the third stage of the infection, the cough and other associated symptoms improve over time.

The signs and symptoms of pertussis are worse during the paroxysmal stage. The cough typically comes in bursts. In addition to the characteristic whooping cough, other associated symptoms can include bluish skin (cyanosis) during a coughing attack, vomiting (following a cough attack), and exhaustion.

Causes of whooping cough (pertussis)

Airway infection with the bacteria Bordetella pertussis causes this condition.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/10/2019

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