Pertussis

Silence the Sounds of Pertussis

Frequently Asked Questions

What is pertussis?
Why is pertussis dangerous?
How is it spread?
Who gets pertussis?
How can I protect my baby from pertussis?
How common is pertussis?
What are the symptoms?
What causes pertussis?
If a person is infected, how long before symptoms appear?
How long does pertussis last?
Does pertussis occur in a milder form?
How can the spread of pertussis be prevented?
Are there official guidelines for pertussis vaccination?
When should babies and children be vaccinated?
When should adolescents and adults be vaccinated?
How much does vaccination decrease the odds of having pertussis?
What is the risk of the DTaP and Tdap vaccination?
How is pertussis treated?
When is it okay to go back to school or work?
Is it possible to have pertussis more than once?
Does pertussis occur at a particular time of year?
Is the rise in cases among all ages?
Who is most at risk from infection?
What is the “Silence the Sounds of Pertussis” Campaign?
Why is the campaign called, “Silence the Sounds of Pertussis”?

What is pertussis?

Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious and potentially deadly bacterial infection that can strike at any age but is particularly dangerous for babies.  The sounds of pertussis are like no other, marked by a “whoop” made when babies are gasping for breath after a severe coughing attack.

Why is pertussis dangerous?

Pertussis can be a serious illness, particularly for babies and young children.  More than half of babies with pertussis must be hospitalized.1  Coughing can be so severe that it is hard for babies to eat, drink or breathe.2

  • Babies may bleed behind the eyes and in the brain from coughing.3

  • The most common complication is bacterial pneumonia.4  About 1 child in 10 with pertussis also gets pneumonia, and about 1 in every 50 will have convulsions.

  • Brain damage occurs in 1 out of every 250 people who get pertussis.

  • Pertussis causes about 10-15 deaths a year in the United States.5

How is it spread?

Pertussis is transmitted through droplets from the mouth and nose when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. 6  Because it is most contagious during the first two weeks of infection when symptoms resemble a cold, pertussis is easily spread throughout a household.  A parent, grandparent or babysitter suffering from what seems like a cold can actually have pertussis and spread the disease to the baby.

Who gets pertussis?

Most pertussis cases are among adults and teens; however the disease is easily spread unknowingly and is most dangerous for babies.  An estimated 90% of unvaccinated children living with someone who has pertussis will get the disease.7

How can I protect my baby from pertussis?

Pertussis is most dangerous for babies before they are old enough to be fully immunized for pertussis.  Transmission by adults who are not vaccinated themselves is responsible for most pertussis cases among babies.  In fact, half of babies with pertussis are infected by their parents.  Most unvaccinated children living with someone who has pertussis will get the disease, and 90% of pertussis-associated deaths have been among babies less than a year old.8,9

That is why it is so important for parents and other family members to get the pertussis vaccine themselves to help “cocoon” babies and young children when they are most vulnerable to the dangers of pertussis.

How common is pertussis?

Pertussis is the only infectious disease for which children are routinely immunized that is on the rise.  In 2004 more than 25,000 cases were reported, up from 1,010 in 1976. Often mistaken for a cold, pertussis is frequently misdiagnosed and underreported.  The actual number of cases each year may be close to one million.10

What are the symptoms?

Pertussis usually starts with cold or flu-like symptoms (runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and cough).  Typical signs of a whooping cough episode include:

  • a cough that sounds like a "whoop" as the infant struggles to breathe

  • a cough that produces a thick mucus

  • lips and nails may turn blue due to lack of oxygen

  • baby is left exhausted after the coughing spell

  • vomiting after a coughing spell

What causes pertussis?

Pertussis is caused by a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis,11 found in the mouth, nose and throat.12

If a person is infected, how long before symptoms appear?

Symptoms appear between 6 to 21 days (average 7-10) after exposure to an infected person.

How long does pertussis last?

Classic pertussis usually starts with cold symptoms.  After about two weeks, the coughing becomes more and more severe.  This stage can last for weeks and even months.13  The Chinese nickname for pertussis as the “cough of 100 days” aptly describes how long whooping cough can linger.

Does pertussis occur in a milder form?

Pertussis can occur in a mild form.  It can be hard to diagnose because its symptoms are very similar to those of a cold.  People with mild pertussis may have a persistent cough, but without the whooping sound.

Immunized school children, adolescents and adults are more likely to have less severe symptoms than young children and babies.

How can the spread of pertussis be prevented?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best way to prevent the disease is for adults and other family members to receive a single Tdap booster vaccine against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.  The CDC also recommends the Tdap booster to protect adolescents between 11 and 18 years.

In addition, the CDC recommends that anyone exposed to pertussis be treated with an antibiotic to prevent infection.  

Are there official guidelines for pertussis vaccination?

The CDC recommends adult immunization as the best way to prevent the spread of pertussis among young children before they are old enough to be fully vaccinated.  While most adults and teens were vaccinated against pertussis as children, immunity decreases over time.  Therefore, the CDC recommends that all adults aged 19 to 64, particularly those who have close contact with a young baby, should be immunized with a single Tdap booster vaccine against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.  The CDC also recommends the Tdap vaccine to protect adolescents between ages 11 and 18.

When should babies and children be vaccinated?

Pertussis vaccine is included in childhood DTaP vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.  To be fully protected against pertussis, every child needs five doses of the DTaP vaccine by age seven.  It is important to follow the recommended schedule because children are vulnerable to infection until they are fully vaccinated. 

When should adolescents and adults be vaccinated?

Because protection from the childhood vaccine decreases over time, the CDC recommends a single booster vaccine, Tdap, to extend protection against pertussis, as well as tetanus and diphtheria.  The CDC also recommends the Tdap booster to protect teens between 11 and 18 years.

Vaccination with a booster is also important for healthcare workers in contact with babies under 12 months.

How much does vaccination decrease the odds of having pertussis?

During a pertussis outbreak, children who have received all their pertussis vaccinations are six times less likely to become infected than those who have never been vaccinated.

What is the risk of the DTaP and Tdap vaccination?

The risks associated with pertussis, tetanus or diphtheria infection are far greater than the possible side effects of the DTaP and Tdap booster vaccines that prevent these deadly diseases among young children, adolescents and adults.

How is pertussis treated?

Pertussis is usually treated with antibiotics. 

When is it okay to go back to school or work?

People with pertussis should avoid contact with others until they have been treated with antibiotics for five days.

Is it possible to have pertussis more than once?

Because immunity from early childhood vaccination decreases over time, adults and teens can become infected with pertussis time and again. 

Does pertussis occur at a particular time of year?

Outbreaks can occur in a community at any time of year but are more likely in fall and winter during cold and flu season.  Pay attention to any announcements of an outbreak in your community so you can be sure to take steps to protect yourself and your family.14

Is the rise in cases among all ages?

The numbers of cases are rising among all age groups, although most pertussis cases are among adults and teens.  Over time, protection against whooping cough from early childhood vaccination decreases; without the Tdap booster vaccine, teens and adults are much more likely to become infected repeatedly and spread the disease unknowingly.

Who is most at risk from infection?

The greatest danger is among babies before they are old enough to be fully immunized against pertussis.  Transmission by adults and adolescents who are not vaccinated themselves is responsible for most pertussis cases among babies.  In fact, half of babies with pertussis are infected by their parents.  Most unvaccinated children living with someone who has pertussis will get the disease, and 90% of deaths caused by pertussis are among babies under six months of age.15,16

What is the “Silence the Sounds of Pertussis” Campaign?

“Silence the Sounds of Pertussis” is a national educational campaign developed by Parents of Kids With Infectious Diseases (PKIDs) to sound the alarm about the dangers of pertussis and alert parents of the need for all adults, caregivers and other family members who come into close contact with the baby to be vaccinated against pertussis to prevent transmission. 

New mom and award-winning television and movie actress Keri Russell is giving voice to the campaign in a national public service announcement.  The campaign also offers a brochure about pertussis and a guide for talking about important health questions with the pediatrician.

Information about “Silence the Sounds of Pertussis” as well as educational materials about preventing and managing pertussis is available on PKIDs’ website at www.pkids.org.

Why is the campaign called “Silence the Sounds of Pertussis”?

With the “Silence the Sounds of Pertussis” campaign, PKIDs hopes to prevent the spread of pertussis from adults to children, so we can forever silence that horrible sound of a baby gasping for air.

Sources

1. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The  Disease. Available at: http://www.cispimmunize.org/ill/dtp/pert/pertill.html. Accessed 8.2.07.

2. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The  Disease. Available at: http://www.cispimmunize.org/ill/dtp/pert/pertill.html. Accessed 8.2.07.

3. The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. Fact Sheet Immunisation. Available at: www.chw.edu.au/parents/factsheets/immunisation.htm Accessed 8.2.07.

4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pertussis. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/clinical/index.html. Accessed 8.2.07.

5. American Academy of Pediatrics. Why immunize? Available at: http://www.cispimmunize.org/aap/aap_main.html?http&&&www.cispimmunize.org/ill/dtp/whofact.html. Accessed 8.2.07.

6. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The  Disease. Available at: http://www.cispimmunize.org/ill/dtp/pert/pertill.html. Accessed 8.2.07.

7. National Network for Immunization Information. Vaccine Information Pertussis (Whooping Cough). Available at: www.immunizationinfo.org/vaccineInfo/vaccine_detail.cfv?id=22. Accessed 8.3.07.

8. Centers for Disease Control. Preventing tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis among adults: use of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis vaccine. Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and Recommendations of ACIP, supported by the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC), for Use of Tdap Among Health-Care Personnel. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5517al.htm. Accessed 9.19.07.

9. Vitek CR, Pascual FB, Baughman AL, Murphy TV. Increase in deaths from pertussis among young infants in the United States in the 1990’s. The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. 2003;22(7):628-634.

10. National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners. Disease overview. www.pertussis.com. Available at: www.pertussis.com/diseaseoverview.html. Accessed 8.2.07.

11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pertussis. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/clinical/index.html. Accessed 8.2.07.

12. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The  Disease. Available at: http://www.cispimmunize.org/ill/dtp/pert/pertill.html. Accessed 8.2.07.

13. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The  Disease. Available at: http://www.cispimmunize.org/ill/dtp/pert/pertill.html. Accessed 8.2.07.

14. National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners. Monthly Whooping Cough Pointers. Available at: www.pertussis.com/pointers.html. Accessed 7.31.07.

15. Vitek CR, Pascual FB, Baughman AL, Murphy TV. Increase in deaths from pertussis among young infants in the United States in the 1990’s. The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. 2003;22(7):628-634.

16. Centers for Disease Control. Preventing tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis among adults: use of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis vaccine. Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and Recommendations of ACIP, supported by the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC), for Use of Tdap Among Health-Care Personnel. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5517al.htm. Accessed 9.19.07.

 

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Important disclaimer: The information on pkids.org is for educational purposes only and should not be considered to be medical advice. It is not meant to replace the advice of the physician who cares for your child. All medical advice and information should be considered to be incomplete without a physical exam, which is not possible without a visit to your doctor.


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