Pertussis: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

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What is Pertussis?

The bacterium Bordetella pertussis causes pertussis, a highly contagious respiratory illness. Close contact with an infected person, as well as their coughing and sneezing, can spread the disease. Inflammation of the airways and violent coughing episodes are the primary symptoms.

Pertussis presents with cold-like symptoms at first, including a runny nose, low-grade fever, and a dry cough that gets worse with time. The cough grows more severe and more regular as it advances, eventually leading to episodes of vomiting and tiredness.

Unvaccinated newborns are at a greater risk of suffering complications from pertussis, such as pneumonia and convulsions. Although adults are also susceptible to contracting pertussis, they often show fewer symptoms than children do.

While antibiotics can help treat pertussis in its early stages, prevention remains key to protecting yourself from this serious illness. Vaccination is essential for both adults and children to prevent its spread within communities.

Types of Pertussis

Pertussis is an infectious respiratory disease that mainly affects infants and young children. There are two main types of pertussis: typical (or classic) and atypical.

  • Typical pertussis is the most common form of the disease, characterized by a series of severe coughing fits followed by a “whooping” sound as air is quickly inhaled. The coughing fits can last several minutes and occur frequently throughout the day, leading to exhaustion for both the patient and caregiver.
  • Atypical pertussis, on the other hand, presents with milder symptoms that may not include a whooping sound or prolonged coughing fits. This form of pertussis can be harder to diagnose due to its less severe presentation.

In addition to these two main types, there are also subcategories of pertussis based on duration and severity of symptoms. These include acute, subacute, and chronic forms.

It’s important to note that regardless of type or category, all forms of pertussis require prompt medical attention to prevent complications and spread of infection.

Symptoms of Pertussis

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a very contagious respiratory illness brought on by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis symptoms typically appear 7-10 days after exposure and may persist for weeks or months.

Pertussis has early-on cold-like symptoms, including a runny nose, slight fever, and an occasional cough. However, as the disease worsens, the patient will experience increasingly violent and lengthy coughing fits, which may culminate in a distinctive “whoop” sound upon inhalation.

Complications from Pertussis include pneumonia, convulsions, and even death, especially in children younger than six months old or those with compromised immune systems.

Exhaustion from having trouble breathing and vomiting during or after bouts of coughing are two additional, less common symptoms. These symptoms are sometimes worse at night and might make it difficult to get to sleep.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms must seek emergency medical assistance to ensure timely, proper treatment. Early detection and treatment not only lessen the severity of the disease, but also stop it from spreading to other people.

Causes of Pertussis

The bacteria Bordetella pertussis is responsible for pertussis, better known as whooping cough. Sneezing and coughing spread bacteria through the air and can infect those in close proximity to the affected individual. Those who haven’t been immunized often catch pertussis from those who haven’t.

Bacteria colonize the respiratory tract, releasing toxins that kill off lung and airway cells. Inflammation brought on by this produces coughing fits that can endure for weeks at a time.

In infants younger than six months old, pertussis can be particularly dangerous because their immune systems are still developing. They may experience severe complications such as pneumonia or brain damage from lack of oxygen during prolonged coughing fits.

Adults who have not received a booster shot for pertussis may also contract this infection due to waning immunity over time. In addition, those with weakened immune systems or chronic respiratory conditions may be at higher risk for contracting pertussis.

Vaccination is still one of the best approaches to stop the spread of pertussis and lessen the illness’s impact on individuals who contract it.

Diagnosis of Pertussis

Early symptoms of pertussis are often identical to those of the common cold, making diagnosis difficult. If a patient has a persistent cough that is accompanied by whooping sounds or vomiting, doctors may consider pertussis..

  • To confirm the diagnosis, doctors typically perform a physical examination and take a sample of respiratory secretions from the nose or throat for laboratory testing. The test involves collecting mucus with a swab and sending it to the lab for analysis.
  • There are different types of laboratory tests available that can detect pertussis-causing bacteria in samples, including polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and bacterial cultures. PCR is particularly useful because it can provide results in just one day compared to cultures that could take several days.
  • In some cases, X-rays and blood tests may also be carried out to check for complications such as pneumonia. It’s essential to get diagnosed correctly since timely treatment is necessary for preventing severe complications and spreading the infection further.

How is Pertussis treated?

Antibiotics are effective in treating most cases of pertussis because they kill the germs that cause the disease and alleviate the symptoms.

Pertussis is typically treated with antibiotics like azithromycin, erythromycin, or clarithromycin. Side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are possible when taking these drugs for the recommended five days.

Due to the high risk of life-threatening consequences, infants younger than six months old who have not yet received the Pertussis vaccine may need to be hospitalized. Mechanical ventilation or oxygen therapy may be necessary to help them breathe.

Antibiotics are a common and successful treatment for Pertussis infections, but it’s crucial to remember that they won’t eliminate all of your symptoms right away. Pertussis-related coughing fits may continue for weeks or months after treatment has completed.

Those who have been diagnosed with Pertussis should also avoid going to school or the workplace until they have finished their antibiotic treatment and are no longer contagious. In addition, preventive antibiotics should be given to close contacts and family members, whether or not they have shown any symptoms, to stop the disease from spreading.

Prevention of Pertussis

Stopping the spread of pertussis, a highly contagious respiratory illness, requires diligent preventative measures. The best way to protect against whooping cough (pertussis) is by vaccination, which is why it is advocated for use in both children and adults.

Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis can all be prevented by giving children five doses of the DTaP vaccination. Typically, the initial dose is administered between the ages of 2 and 4 months, with following doses administered between the ages of 6 and 15 months and 4 and 6 years. Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis) booster shots are recommended for adolescents aged 11 and 12.

Tdap vaccination is recommended for adults who either were not immunized as children or who did not obtain a booster dose as an adult. Pregnant mothers are included because antibodies can be transferred to the baby.

Washing hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is an additional crucial measure for reducing the transmission of pertussis. Transmission can be reduced by using a tissue or your elbow to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.

By taking these measures seriously, we can all help stop the spread of Pertussis within communities and reduce the risk of contracting the disease ourselves..


Pertussis is a very contagious illness that, if ignored, can have devastating effects on a person’s health. If you suspect you have pertussis, don’t delay in getting medical help. Antibiotics and symptom management are standard treatments.

Prevention is key in avoiding the spread of this disease. Vaccines are available for both children and adults, which can significantly reduce the risk of contracting or spreading Pertussis.

By staying informed about the causes, symptoms, treatment options, and prevention methods for Pertussis, we can work together to protect ourselves and our communities from this potentially dangerous illness. So let’s stay vigilant against Pertussis and take necessary precautions to keep ourselves healthy!

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