Pertussis

Alternative Names

Whooping cough

Definition of Pertussis

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing. The coughing can make it hard to breathe.  A deep “whooping” sound is often heard when the patient tries to take a breath.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is an upper respiratory infection caused by the or bacteria. It is a serious disease that can cause permanent disability in infants, and even death.

Symptoms

Initial symptoms, similar to the , usually develop about a week after exposure to the bacteria.

Signs and tests

The initial diagnosis is usually based on the symptoms. However, when the symptoms are not obvious, pertussis may be difficult to diagnose. In very young infants, the symptoms may be caused by pneumonia instead.

Treatment

If started early enough, antibiotics such as erythromycin can make the symptoms go away more quickly. Unfortunately, most patients are diagnosed too late, when antibiotics aren’t very effective. However, the medicines can help reduce the patient’s ability to spread the disease to others.

Expectations (prognosis)

In older children, the outlook is generally very good. Infants have the highest risk of death, and need careful monitoring.

Review

Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 11/2/2009

Respiratory system overview

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

Article written by

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability.