What is pertussis?
Pertussis, sometimes called “whooping cough” is a very contagious infection of the respiratory system caused by a bacteria. It is known for its uncontrollable and violent coughing that can make it hard to breathe.
Pertussis can affect people of all ages but for infants it is especially severe and dangerous. Infants most at risk are those who are not immunized – especially those who have not yet received 2 or more doses of vaccine.
Pertussis is a reportable disease in Ontario.
What are the symptoms of pertussis?
The illness usually starts with cold-like symptoms with mild fever and cough. After 1 to 2 weeks severe coughing can begin and can last for weeks.
Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing, over and over until the person is forced to inhale. A “whoop” sound can be heard when the person breathes in. The extreme coughing can cause vomiting and fatigue. Coughing spells occur more frequently at night.
The disease is most severe in infants less than 1 year of age; many are so sick that they have to be cared for in hospital. Older children, teenagers, and adults can cough so hard that they break a rib, lose control of their bladder, develop a hernia, or collapse a lung.
Pertussis cough usually lasts 6 to 12 weeks but can last for months. Coughing spells can be triggered by anything that irritates the airways, such as a cold.
You should see a health care provider if the illness seems to be causing more serious symptoms.
How is pertussis spread?
When a person with pertussis coughs or sneezes, droplets containing the bacteria can spread short distances through the air to other people. The droplets can also land on surfaces and objects in the environment and can be picked up on the hands of others who can then become infected when they touch their eyes, nose or mouth. Items used by an infected person such as drinking glasses, water bottles or eating utensils can spread the bacteria if they are shared.
Symptoms of pertussis usually begin within 7-10 days after being exposed to someone with infection, but sometimes not for as long as 6 weeks.
How is pertussis treated?
Pertussis infection can be treated with antibiotics. The medication is taken for 2 weeks and will prevent the infection from spreading to others, as well as help you to get better.
You can treat mild symptoms at home.
How is pertussis prevented?
The best protection against pertussis is vaccination. In Ontario there is a vaccine available that can protect individuals against pertussis. Children are usually immunized at 2, 4, 6, and 18 months; 4 to 6 years; and 14 to 16 years of age.
Provincial law states that all children going to school in Ontario must be vaccinated against pertussis unless they are excused for medical or philosophical reasons.
Simple preventative measures can reduce the spread of infection.