Pertussis is a respiratory illness that is caused by the bacteria that is called Bordetella pertussis. The symptoms begin very similar to the common cold but over time they worsen and develop into a nasty cough that includes a very large ‘whoop’ or honk. This cough is caused by the bacteria attaching itself to the cilia that is within the lungs and upper respiratory system. As this bacteria multiplies it will release toxins into the body which will not only affect the cilia during the illness but it can cause permanent damage as well if you are not careful. Damage to the cilia can cause your airways to swell making it difficult to breathe and function. Medical attention is imperative if you suspect that you or your child has whooping cough.

How Is It Spread?

The thing about pertussis is that it is incredibly contagious to other humans of all ages. While an adult can handle pertussis typically quite well, very small children can suffer some pretty nasty symptoms during the duration of the illness. Like your average cold, pertussis is spread by a person coughing or sneezing. If you are within a small space with someone who has pertussis or you live with someone who has this illness it is very easy to pass from one person to the next. Babies easily get pertussis from their parents, caregivers or other children that they are in contact with. The germ can be passed before the patient is even symptomatic which can be dangerous since you may not even know a person has pertussis. The most contagious period takes place two weeks before the cough will begin. The common cold-like symptoms can be present during this time however.


If pertussis is the cause of symptoms, an antibiotic can be given in order to rid the body of this dangerous bacteria. It may take twenty-four to forty-eight hours in order for the antibiotic to prevent passing the illness on though so proper care should be taken to try and protect others. If the illness has progressed, there are some other treatments that can help with the breathing difficulties that may be occurring. Albuterol and other steroid breathing treatments can help reduce inflammation and open up the airways. Doctors will also ensure, especially in small children, that the child is hydrated in order to prevent any complications from occurring.


As with any illness it is important to practice good hand washing techniques whenever you are around someone who is sick or when you are out and about. It is wise to avoid contact with someone who you know has been diagnosed with pertussis recently and if you suspect someone is ill, you should avoid sharing a space with them. Don’t forget to get enough sleep at night and eat healthy so your body has the fighting chance it needs if it does come into contact with germs of any sort. There is a pertussis vaccine that you and your child can get to reduce your risk of getting this illness. If you have a newborn in the home and the child is still too young to get this vaccine, the parents and grandparents should get vaccinated in order to protect the young child along with any other children that may be living in the house at that time. However, a person who is up to date on their vaccines can still get pertussis.

If you or you child are sick, feel your symptoms are not getting any better, and are developing a substantial cough, then you may want to head to the doctor’s office and be tested for pertussis. It is better to be cautious before you or your small child develop complicated symptoms.