Teen with whooping cough

What to know about whooping cough

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease. While most severe in infants, the illness is common among children ages five to 18.

The bacteria that causes the illness spreads from person to person through tiny drops of fluid from the nose or mouth. These may become airborne when an infected person sneezes or coughs.


"Pertussis is a bacterial illness that initially presents itself like a cold, with a fever, cough and runny nose," said Dr. Shannon Tighe, pediatrician at Community Physician Network. "Symptoms often progress to a harsh cough that occurs in fits and can cause the patient to struggle to breathe or 'whoop' when they cough - hence the name whooping cough."


Infants diagnosed with pertussis are typically hospitalized for treatment, but teens can be treated from home with antibiotics. These antibiotics kill the bacteria, making the individual less contagious, as well as speed recovery time.

"Students who are diagnosed with pertussis can return to school after they have completed five days of the recommended course of antibiotics," explained Dr. Suzanne Grannan, pediatrician at Community Physician Network.


The most effective way to prevent the illness is through vaccination.

"The single best way for parents to prevent pertussis is to make sure their child is up-to-date on his or her immunizations," said Grannan. "Six doses of pertussis-containing vaccine are recommended: four doses of DTaP before age two, one booster dose before school entry, and one dose of Tdap at age 11 or 12."

Contact your doctor if you suspect that your child has pertussis. To make a diagnosis, the doctor will take a medical history, do a thorough physical exam, and take nose and throat mucus samples that will be examined and for the pertussis bacteria.