Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious disease caused
by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It's characterized by severe coughing
spells that end in a "whooping" sound when the person breathes in. The whoop
originates from the inflammation and swelling of the laryngeal structures that
vibrate when there is a rapid inflow of air during inspiration.
Pertussis symptoms usually start just like regular cold symptoms about 6 to 21
days after being exposed to someone else with pertussis, often an adult with a
chronic cough. Unimmunized or incompletely immunized young infants are
particularly vulnerable to the infection and its complications, which can
include pneumonia and seizures.
When an infected person sneezes or coughs, tiny droplets containing the bacteria
move through the air, and the disease is easily spread from person to person.
Whooping cough can affect people of any age.
Before vaccines were widely available, the disease was most common in infants
and young children. There are three stages identified:
- First Stage. Symptoms like those of a cold begin and last for several days to
2 weeks. An infected person is most contagious during this stage.
- Second Stage. The most serious symptoms occur during this phase and last about
2 to 4 weeks. A dry, hacking cough turns into bursts of uncontrollable, often
violent coughing that may make it temporarily impossible to breathe.
- Third Stage. The final stage, lasting several weeks, is a gradual recovery