Facts About Pertussis

What is pertussis?
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a contagious infectious disease caused by a bacterium called bordetella pertussis. 
What are the symptoms of pertussis?
The main symptoms are severe coughing spells known as paroxysms that may end in vomiting. The early symptoms of the disease are indistinguishable from a common cold. It then progresses to paroxysms. The cough can last several weeks.  In very young children there is a characteristic "whoop" that can be heard. This is absent in older patients.
Coughing is usually worse at night or when lying flat.
How is it spread?
Whooping cough is transmitted by coming into contact with droplets from coughs and sneezes of someone who is infected. We can prevent the spread of this illness, even when we don't know that we have it, by covering our mouth when we cough and washing our hands frequently.
The source of pertussis for infants is usually a household contact who has a cough not recognized as whooping cough.
Symptoms of pertussis usually develop within 7 – 10 days after being exposed, but sometimes not for as long as 6 weeks.
Who is susceptible to pertussis?
Anyone who is exposed to the bacteria can get pertussis. Unimmunized or inadequately-immunized children and adults are at higher risk for severe disease. Even though most children are immunized against this disease, immunity only lasts a few years, making students in junior high and high school susceptible to the disease.
What are the complications?
Pertussis is most dangerous to children less than 1 year old. Severe cases in infants can result in apnea (not breathing), hypoxia (low oxygen in the blood), seizures, pneumonia, and even death.
Is pertussis preventable?
Yes! Disease in children can usually be prevented with a vaccine that also protects against tetanus and diphtheria (DTaP). Before age 7, children should get five doses of the vaccine. The recommended schedule is at 2, 4, 6 and 15 to 18 months of age and another booster shot at 4-6 years of age.
Given the risks of this disease, the California Department of Public Health is recommending an adolescent-adult pertussis booster vaccine (Tdap) for:
  • Anyone 10 years of age or older, including those older than 64
  • Women of child-bearing age before, during or immediately after pregnancy 
  • Anyone who has contact with pregnant women, newborns or infants
  • Children who never started or finished their DTaP series can get a Tdap booster as early as age 7
  • Adults should get a Tdap booster if they have never had one 
  • Medical providers may also want to consider giving infants an accelerated schedule of DTaP during this epidemic. Per the American Academy of Pediatrics 2009 Red Book, “If pertussis is prevalent in the community, immunization can be started as early as 6 weeks of age, and doses 2 and 3 in the primary series can be given at intervals of 4 weeks." 
How is pertussis treated?
Persons with pertussis need to take antibiotics.  They should avoid contact with others until they are no longer contagious. A person is no longer contagious after 21 days of coughing without antibiotic treatment or after five days of antibiotic treatment. It is important that infected individuals complete the full course of antibiotics!

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