Pertussis (Whooping Cough) - What You Need to Know

Cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, have been on the upswing in North Central Washington. What do you need to know, and what do you need to do to keep your family safe? 

Read on for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding this highly contagious infection.

Q: How do I protect my family from whooping cough (B. pertussis)?

A: The most effective way to protect yourself and family from whooping cough is to get vaccinated. Other measures you can take include:

  • Wash your hands frequently!

  • Avoid contact with other people who are ill; if contact can not be avoided, wear a mask.

  • See a medical provider if you or your loved ones develop pertussis like symptoms or have been exposed to someone with pertussis.

  • Cover your cough.

Q: Who is at risk for whooping cough infections?

A: Everyone is at risk. The most susceptible populations are: 

  • Infants

  • People with chronic respiratory diseases

  • Pregnant women, especially during 3rd trimester.

Q: What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

A: Pertussis (also known as the 100-day cough) has 3 distinct stages:

  1. Stage one: 1-2 weeks, most contagious stage. Mimics a common cold.

  • Runny nose.

  • Low grade fever (less than 100.4° F).

  • Mild occasional cough.

  • Apnea (dangerous pauses in breathing).

  • Cyanosis (turning purple or blue) in babies and young children.

  1. Stage two: 1-8 weeks, sometimes as long as 10 weeks.

  • Paroxysmal cough: fits of numerous, rapid cough followed by a long wheeze on inhalation (whoop).

  • Exhaustion and vomiting after coughing paroxysms.

  • May struggle to breathe because of constricted airways.

  1. Stage three: 2-3 weeks.

  • Coughing is less, but fits may still occur.

  • Prone to infection from other respiratory conditions during this time.

  • Gradual recovery.

Q: When should I seek medical attention?

A:  you should see a medical provider if you or your loved one is:

  • Not drinking enough fluid (dehydrated).

  • Turning blue or purple.

  • Coughing violently.

  • Struggling to breathe.

  • Coughing rapidly over and over.

  • Known to be exposed to someone with whooping cough at work or school.

Q: I had whooping cough once before, am I immune?

A: No. Natural immunity fades over time and does not give lifelong protection.

Q: I or my loved one has been diagnosed with whooping cough, when can I return to work/school/play?

A: Generally, 5 days after beginning antibiotics. Consult with your facility’s occupational health officer or school nurse to determine.