Whooping Cough Fact Sheet

Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

You may have heard about the cases of whooping cough in Lexington. Although most persons you may meet are vaccinated against the illness, it is important to be aware of whooping cough, its symptoms, and treatment.

Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is a respiratory illness. It is very contagious. Pertussis vaccines are the most effective tool to prevent this illness, but like all vaccines, it is not 100% effective. This means that if whooping cough has been going through the community, there is still a chance that a fully vaccinated person can catch the illness. If a person has been vaccinated, however, the infection is usually not as bad for him or her.

Whooping cough spreads from person to person through coughing, sneezing, or even being in close proximity to someone with the illness. Many people are infected with whooping cough by siblings, parents, or caregivers who do not even know they have the illness. Symptoms of the illness usually begin within five to ten days after being exposed but could take up to three weeks to manifest.

Whooping Cough Symptoms

There are two stages of symptoms for whooping cough: early stage and late stage.

Early stage symptoms

(First 1 to 2 weeks)

  • Runny nose
  • Low-grade fever (generally minimal throughout the course of the disease)
  • Mild, occasional cough
  • Apnea (pause in breathing) in babies

Late stage symptoms

(The traditional symptoms people associate with whooping cough)

  • Fits of many, rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched “whoop” on the inhale
  • Vomiting (throwing up) during or after coughing fits
  • Exhaustion after coughing fits

Pertussis Symptoms for Babies

Symptoms for babies are very different from older children and adults. Babies might not even have a cough or it could be a slight cough. They are also likely to show apnea (a long pause in breathing). This illness is very dangerous for babies. Information about babies who have the illness shows that about 50% of babies under one year need care in the hospital.

What to Do if Seeing Symptoms

If a school age child is showing symptoms, he or she should stay home from school and visit a healthcare provider. You should take your child to a healthcare provider even if he or she has been vaccinated. If your child has whooping cough, he or she will need to stay out of school until all antibiotics have been taken.

If a person in your home has whooping cough, the healthcare provider may recommend that others in the home also take an antibiotic to prevent the spread of the illness.

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a contagious respiratory illness. Be on the watch for symptoms for you and your family and visit a healthcare provider should you think someone may have the illness.

Written by Nicole Peritore, Kentucky Extension Specialist for Family Health. Edited by Lauren State, Oldham County Extension Staff Assistant. Source material from the Centers for Disease Control.

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2 thoughts on “Whooping Cough Fact Sheet

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