Signs & Symptoms
When symptoms first start, pertussis tends to look a lot like a common cold, causing a runny nose and perhaps a slight fever and mild cough. The severe coughing spells begin a week or so later. In children, a coughing spell usually ends with the characteristic "whoop" noise, the sound of the child trying to catch his or her breath. Babies under 6 months may not produce this “whooping” –though they may cough so hard they vomit or lose consciousness.
What can I do today?
Practice prevention—and stop the spread:
- Make sure everyone in your family is immunized with the pertussis vaccine. Pertussis is a preventable disease.
- During a pertussis outbreak in your area, keep your unimmunized child (age 7 or younger) home from school or daycare and out of social gatherings. Your unimmunized child can rejoin these activities two weeks after the last reported case.
- Wash your hands often and well—and have children do the same.
- Disinfect tables, toys, counters, and other surfaces regularly.
- Cover your sneezes and coughs.
- Use a tissue once, then throw it away and wash your hands.
Call your child’s doctor if you notice:
- Severe coughing spells (may end in a whooping sound, gasping for air, loss of consciousness, vomiting)
- Any other breathing problems (such as periods of not breathing, very fast or very slow breathing, noisy breathing)
- Signs of low oxygen (bluish or purple skin or lips)
- Fever that lasts longer than 3 days —or fever higher than 100.2°F in an infant 3 months or younger
- Fussiness, poor eating, sleepiness or low energy in a baby
- Signs of dehydration (dry mouth and eyes, little urine, low energy)
- Any other severe symptoms or symptoms that last longer than 7 days
Understanding the Infection Timeline
How It's Spread
Pertussis is highly contagious. The bacteria spread person-to-person through coughs, sneezes, laughs—anything that produces a spray that can be breathed in by someone else. Experts estimate that if one person has pertussis, anyone in the household who isn’t immunized against the illness has an 80% chance of getting it, too.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Providers usually diagnose pertussis by taking a medical history and doing a physical exam. The provider may also choose to verify the diagnosis by testing a sample of mucus.
Treatment may include antibiotics, and severe illness might require monitoring and treatment in a hospital. (Note that infants 6 months and younger with pertussis will need hospital treatment.)
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.