Winnebago County Health Department

Pertussis Information Page

 Pertussis - Whooping Cough

What is Pertussis?
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a disease that affects the lungs. Pertussis bacteria are spread from person to person through the air. A person with pertussis develops a severe cough that usually lasts four to six weeks or longer. Pertussis can be very serious, especially in infants.

What are the symptoms of pertussis?
The first symptoms of pertussis are similar to a cold: sneezing, a runny nose, possibly a low- grade fever, and a cough. After one or two weeks, the cough becomes severe as noted by the following:

  • The cough occurs in sudden, uncontrollable bursts where one cough follows the next without a break for breath.
  • Many children will make a high-pitched whooping sound when breathing in after a coughing episode. Whooping is less common in infants and adults.
  • During a coughing spell, the person may vomit.
  • The person's face or lips may look blue from lack of oxygen.
  • The cough is often worse at night.
  • Between coughing spells, the person seems well, but the illness is exhausting over time.
  • Coughing episodes gradually becomes less frequent, but may continue for several weeks or months until the lungs heal.

What are the complications of pertussis?
Pertussis in infants is often severe, and infants are more likely than older children or adults to develop complications.

  • The most common complication of pertussis is bacterial pneumonia.
  • Rare complications include seizures, inflammation of the brain, and death.

Who gets pertussis?

  • Anyone of any age can get pertussis.
  • Teenagers and adults account for more than half of the reported cases.
  • Cases in school-aged children continue to increase.
  • Older children and adults usually have less severe illness, but they can still spread the disease to infants and young children.

Is there a vaccine for pertussis?
Yes. There are two pertussis vaccines (DTaP and Tdap). Both vaccines are given in combination with tetanus and diphtheria.  Your age determines which vaccine you should receive.

  • DTaP vaccine is given to children up to 7 years of age. Children should receive shots at 2, 4, 6, and 15-18 months of age, and 4 to 6 years of age.
  • Tdap vaccine can be given to persons 10-64 years of age. 
          ♦ Adolescents 11-12 years of age should receive Tdap instead of Td (tetanus/diptheria) before they start middle school. 
          ♦ For School Year 2013-2014, students entering sixth through twelfth grades will be required to provide proof of Tdap vaccination in addition to the school physical forms that are required for these grades. 
          ♦ Adults should receive a onetime Tdap in place of the Td (tetanus/diptheria) booster especially if they care for infants less than 12 months of age.

Is there a lab test for pertussis?
Yes. To test for pertussis, the nasal passages are swabbed. Material on the swab is then examined in the lab for the presence of pertussis bacteria.

When and for how long can a person spread pertussis?
Pertussis is most infectious (most likely to spread to others early in the illness. Persons who have pertussis but have completed five days of antibiotics can no longer spread the disease.
Persons who have the disease but do not take the antibiotics can spread the disease during the first three weeks they are coughing. (Note: The cough will generally last longer than three weeks until the lungs are healed.)

Can pertussis be treated?
Pertussis can be treated with antibiotics, but treatment may not cure the symptoms. However, antibiotics will reduce the spread of disease to others.
Antibiotics lessen the symptoms if given during early stages of illness. When antibiotics are started later in the illness, damage from pertussis is already done and the cough will last until the lungs heal. Pertussis bacteria die off naturally after three weeks of coughing. If antibiotics are not started within that time, they are no longer recommended.
Antibiotics can also be given to close contacts of persons with pertussis to prevent or lessen the symptoms.

How can pertussis be prevented?
     ♦ Vaccinate all children on time. This is the best way to prevent pertussis. Also, everyone should:
     ♦ Avoid close contact with others who are coughing or otherwise ill.
     ♦ Wash their hands often.
     ♦ Stay home if they are ill.
     ♦ Cover their cough with a tissue or cough in their sleeve.
     ♦ Seek medical attention if they develop pertussis-like symptoms or have been exposed to someonewith   pertussis.

If you have pertussis, avoid infecting others. Stay home and avoid close contact with others until you have taken antibiotics for at least five full days and are no longer infectious to others.

Winnebago County Pertussis Cases (Probable and Confirmed)
2011 - 35
2012 - 25

2013 - 60

Pertussis Fact Sheet - IDPH

Links for additional information about Pertussis:

Influenza vs. Colds vs. Pertussis

Winnebago County Pertussis Data (2011):
Pertussis Data 2011.pdf

Winnebago County Pertussis Data (2011)
Winnebago County Pertussis Outbreak Data