Public Health Fact Sheet

What is Pertussis?
Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease commonly called Whooping Cough that is caused by the bacteria Bordetella Pertussis.  It can cause severe prolonged coughing as well as other more serious complications such as pneumonia, seizures and brain damage.  Anyone at an age can get Pertussis.  Pertussis can be severe and even deadly particularly in infants.

How is Pertussis spread?
Pertussis is spread by direct contact with discharge from the respiratory tract of an infected person, or by breathing in droplets projected into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

How long after exposure until symptoms begin and how long is a person contagious?
An untreated person is most infectious during the early stages of the disease to three weeks after the onset of the cough spasms. A person treated with an appropriate antibiotic is usually not infectious after a course of treatment.  After exposure, it takes 1-3 weeks for symptoms to appear.

What do I do if I am exposed?
Contact your doctor.  If you are a close contact to someone who has Pertussis, you may be given a course of antibiotics to prevent the disease. If you are not up to date on your Pertussis vaccine (Dtap or tdap), get vaccinated.  If you think you may have Pertussis, contact your doctor for testing and possible antibiotic treatment.  Limit group activities including work and school until you have received five days of an appropriate antibiotic.

How is Pertussis treated?
Infants younger than six months of age with severe disease often require hospitalization to manage cough spasms, feeding difficulties or other complications.  Antibiotics given during the early stage of the disease shorten communicability and may reduce symptoms. Antibiotics given after the cough spasms have started have no effect on the course of the illness, but are recommended to limit the spread of the disease to others.

Additional information is available on the CDC website at
Symptoms of Pertussis

  • Begins with upper respiratory symptoms, runny nose, red watery eyes, and lack of appetite
  • Initial symptoms will improve but leave a persistent dry cough for 1-2 weeks
  • Cough then becomes severe and the infected person experiences cough spasms, potentially a high pitched "whoop" noise with coughing and vomiting

February 2020