Pertussis( Whooping cough): Causes, Symptoms, Treatment And Prevention


What Is Pertussis?

Pertussis or whooping cough is a contagious disease that causes episodic coughs along with shortness of breath. It is actually caused by the bacterial species Bordetella Pertussis so-called pertussis. The bacteria that Iive in the throat, mouth, and nose of an infected person spreads fon one person to another person mainly through the respiratory droplets expelled while sneezing and coughing. Immunocompromised people with weak immunity are more likely to get pertussis.

Pertussis commonly affects infants and young children, but immunization with the pertussis vaccine also helps to prevent the infection. Young infants are at the highest chance for complications. They can even die from respiratory disease. Adults may develop pertussis as their immunity from vaccines wears off over time.

What Causes Pertussis?

The primary causative pathogen of whooping cough or pertussis is the bacterium Bordetella pertussis which is a toxin-induced disease. After it enters the body of a person then the bacteria attach to the cilia of the epithelial cells that lining the respiratory tract. These bacteria release the toxin that causes the inflammation of the respiratory tract which prevents the complete clearing of the pulmonary secretions. Some of the bacteria may reside in the alveolar macrophages and also cause more serious infections. It persists for a prolonged period which is also known as the 100-day cough.


The bordetella bacterium has an incubation duration of 7 to 14 days. This means that the symptoms are remarked after 7 to 14 days of the disease. The symptoms are according to the week of contamination that includes:

First 1-2 weeks

The early sign and symptoms appear in this phase. This may be complicated with the symptoms of the common cold and flu. The patients may present all of the following signs:

  • Mild to moderate cough
  • Runny nose
  • Low-grade fever
  • Shortness of breath

2-12 weeks

These symptoms are relatively dangerous which are noted below:

  • Bouts of an incessant and uncontrollable cough accompanied by a high-pitched whooping sound occur if the person breathes in.
  • After an incident of coughing fits, the victim may vomit
  • Fatigue after a coughing fit
  • Disturbed sleep.
  • chest pain
  • seizures in infant

Prolong pertussis may give an increase to repeated infections. Many people tend to fall consciousness after episodes of whooping cough which happens because of the coughing fit that does not admit the time to inhale oxygen within the gaps.  At times, there is no passage at all among the two consecutive coughing fits. Rib fractures are normal in cases where the exertion is caused by a cough on the rib cage that is very big. In a few cases, the episodes of whooping cough will persist for 6-10 weeks so the disease is called a 100-day cough in such cases.

What Is The Treatment?

Antibiotics directed against Bordetella pertussis can be efficacious in diminishing the severity of pertussis when administered early in the course of the disease. Antibiotic therapy can also serve to decrease the risk of transmission of the bacterium to other household members as well as to others who may meet an infected person. Unfortunately, physicians diagnose most people with whooping cough next with the status in the second stage of this disorder.

Antibiotics are the prescribed treatment for anyone who has had the disease for less than 3 to 4 weeks. Azithromycin, clarithromycin, erythromycin, sulfamethoxazole are the antibiotics that have been determined to be effective in managing whooping cough. It is not clear whether antibiotics have any advantages for people who have been ill with pertussis for longer than 3 to 4 weeks, although doctors still advise antibiotic therapy for this group. there is no proven efficacious treatment for the paroxysms of coughing that follow pertussis.

Health care professionals routinely use antibiotics on people who have had close touch with an infected person regardless of their vaccination status.

Do not give an infected child over the counter or prescription cough syrup or cough medicines except instructed to do so by a doctor. they may begin sedation that heads to the worsened outcomes.


Vaccination is the solution to the prevention of pertussis. The prescribed vaccination for infants at:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months

Booster shots are required for children at:

  • 15 to 18 months
  • 4 to 6 years and again at 11 years old.

Children are not the only ones unprotected from pertussis. Talk to your doctor about receiving vaccination if you:

  • Work with, care for infants
  • Are over the age of 65
  • Work in the health care industry

Last Updated on July 28, 2023 by john liam