Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

Pertussis is an acute bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis and primarily affects the respiratory system. The classic symptom of sudden, violent coughs in rapid succession followed by a high pitched wheezing sound gives it the name “whooping cough”. The infection primarily affects children but can be the cause of a persistent cough in adults that lasts for weeks after an initial episode of cold like symptoms.

Where does it occur?

It occurs worldwide, but a higher prevalence exists in developing nations.

How is it transmitted?

It is transmitted by inhaling air containing the bacteria coughed up by infected individuals.

Is it contagious from person to person?

It is contagious from person to person and remains so for up to 3 weeks after the classic cough starts.

What is the risk for travelers?

The risk is generally low, but higher in 3rd world countries. Immunity of adults can wane over time and this can be a risk for reinfections.

How soon after exposure will one develop symptoms?

Symptoms develop anywhere from 1-2 weeks after exposure.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Initially one develops symptoms of fever, runny nose, tearing, red eyes and a mild cough. 1-2 weeks later one sees the classic symptoms of sudden violent successive cough followed by a gasping, raspy breath resulting in “whooping cough”. Many have vomiting episodes following the cough spells.

In adults the symptoms are generally mild and maybe manifested only by a persistent cough.

Are there any lab tests to diagnose the illness?

The bacteria can be cultured from nasopharyngeal secretions. Blood antibody tests are also commonly used.

Is there any treatment?

Antibiotics like erythromycin, azithromycin and clarithromycin are used.

What preventive measures can be taken?

Immunization with pertussis vaccine is the most effective preventive measure.

advice for your illness and travel
learn about an exotic disease