Pertussis, also known as "whooping cough," is a highly contagious respiratory disease that is easily transmitted from person to person. People who have the disease spread it by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the bacteria. The bacteria attach to the cilia (tiny, hair like extensions) that line part of the upper respiratory tract and which are responsible for helping keep the respiratory tract clean and healthy. The bacteria release toxins, which damage the cilia and cause inflammation (swelling).
Symptoms of pertussis usually develop within 7-10 days after being exposed, but may not show up for as long as 6 weeks. There is a vaccine available for pertussis, which is very effective in helping to control the spread of the disease. No vaccine is 100% effective, however, so it is possible for someone who has been fully vaccinated to still become infected. If you have been vaccinated, infection is usually less severe.
The symptoms of the disease are similar to many other respiratory infections, so diagnosis can be missed. Persons with pertussis have a persistent cough that lasts longer than the usual cold, more than 1-2 weeks, and is usually a very severe cough. They can have severe coughing fits and the tell-tale "whoop" is the sound made when they try to catch their breath during one of these fits. Not all people who have pertussis will have the "whoop," however. This severe cough is often described as the worst cough of their lives, disrupts sleep and can even cause complications such as fractured ribs, broken blood vessels, and pauses in breathing long enough to cause loss of consciousness (passing out). The disease can even lead to death.
Infants are most at risk for severe complications from pertussis. They may not even cough at all, but may have life-threatening pauses in breathing or struggle to breathe.
The best protection against pertussis is to get vaccinated! Children should receive the DTaP (diptheria, tetaunus, pertussis) vaccine in a series of five vaccinations at 2,4, and 6 months of age, at 15-18 months of age, and again at 4 to 6 years of age. A booster of Tdap (tetanus, diptheria, pertussis) is given to preteens at 11 or 12 years of age. If you are over the age of 19 and have never received a Tdap shot, you should get vaccinated. If you are not sure whether or not you have had the Tdap shot, you can receive a booster. It is especially important for you to receive a booster if you will be in close contact with children, especially newborns.
If you are pregnant, it is especially important for you to be vaccinated sometime during weeks 27 - 36 of your pregnancy, regardless of whether or not you have previously received a Tdap shot. You should be revaccinated EVERY pregnancy. This will help provide some immunity to your newborn during their first two months of life, since they do not start receiving the vaccine until 2 months of age.
Information in this article has been taken from the cdc.gov website. For more information go to www.cdc.gov/pertussis/about/index.html or call the Wabaunsee County Health Department.