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Pertussis, literally meaning “a violent cough,” and also known as whooping cough, or “the cough of 100 days,” was first described in the Paris Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection. In many people, it's marked by a severe hacking cough followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like "whoop."

Before the vaccine was developed, whooping cough was considered a childhood disease. Now whooping cough primarily affects children too young to have completed the full course of vaccinations and teenagers and adults whose immunity has faded.

Deaths associated with whooping cough are rare but most commonly occur in infants. That's why it's so important for pregnant women — and other people who will have close contact with an infant — to be vaccinated against whooping cough.


At first, whooping cough has the same symptoms as the average cold:

Mild coughing


Runny nose

Low fever (below 102 F)

You may also have diarrhea early on.

After about 7-10 days, the cough turns into “coughing spells” that end with a whooping sound as the person tries to breathe in air.

Because the cough is dry and doesn't produce mucus, these spells can last up to 1 minute. Sometimes it can cause your face to briefly turn red or purple.

Most people with whooping cough have coughing spells, but not everyone does.

Infants may not make the whooping sound or even cough, but they might gasp for air or try to catch their breath during these spells. Some may vomit.


A type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis causes whooping cough. If a person with whooping cough sneezes, laughs, or coughs, small droplets that contain this bacteria may fly through the air. You might get sick if you breathe in the droplets.

When the bacteria get into your airways, they attach to the tiny hairs in the linings of the lungs. The bacteria cause swelling and inflammation, which lead to a dry, long-lasting cough and other cold-like symptoms.

Whooping cough can cause anyone at any age to get sick. It may last 3 to 6 weeks. You can get sick from it even if you've already been vaccinated, but that's not likely.

Risk factors

Risk factors for pertussis include lack of immunization or impaired immune responses to vaccination. Laboratory studies suggest that immune responsiveness to pertussis vaccines may be impaired by both infection and intrauterine exposure to HIV even in HIV-uninfected children 

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Infants with whooping cough require close monitoring to avoid potentially dangerous complications due to lack of oxygen. Serious complications include:

brain damage



bleeding in the brain

apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)

convulsions (uncontrollable, rapid shaking)


If your infant experiences symptoms of infection, call your doctor immediately.

Older children and adults can experience complications as well, including:

difficulty sleeping

urinary incontinence (loss of bladder control)


rib fracture


Vaccination is the key to prevention. The CDCTrusted Source recommends vaccination for infants at:

2 months

4 months

6 months

Booster shots are needed for children at:

15 to 18 months

4 to 6 years and again at 11 years old

Children aren’t the only ones vulnerable to whooping cough. Talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated if you:

work with, visit, or care for infants and children

are over the age of 65

work in the healthcare industry