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Is Your Cough From Pertussis?

By Expert HERWriter
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 27,550 cases of pertussis with many more unreported in 2010. As of June 2012, the state of Washington alone has had 2,092 cases with more outbreaks being recorded across the nation.

Pertussis is also known as whooping cough and can have some serious ramifications if not addressed in a timely manner.

The illness starts out with upper respiratory symptoms that have you thinking it could be the common cold or sinus infection with a mild cough. This is known as the catarrhal stage and can last 7 to 10 days.

As it progresses into the paroxysmal stage, the cough becomes worse and you discover why it is commonly referred to as "whooping cough." The cough seems to take over the whole body as people experience the initial part of the cough which is a long inspiration (or whoop sound) followed by fits of coughing and subsequent vomiting or retching for many.

Unfortunately this process repeats itself and can last untreated up to 10 weeks. Adults may not experience the whoop or vomiting, and instead have a persistant cough that leaves them breathless and tired.

Children and those not vaccinated most often experience the whoop/vomit, making it classic for parents and health care providers to identify, whereas infants under one year of age may not cough at all, but experience pauses in their breathing known as apnea and vomiting.

Gradually over time, the majority of people notice their cough lessens until it is only occasional and then finally, after many many weeks, it’s gone.

Pertussis is spread rapidly through respiratory droplets either from coughing or sneezing and if exposure is suspected or if exposure to a positively confirmed case is known, treatment should be sought immediately. Immediate treatment is especially important for infants as it is most serious for them.

Many Americans are vaccinated as children through the DTaP, otherwise known as the diptheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine. However this vaccine does not last forever and boosters are encouraged for adults.

Infants, especially under the age of six months, are at greatest risk because they lack the immunity from either not having had the vaccine or not yet completing their vaccine schedule.

If you or someone in your family becomes ill and has a cough, call your health care provider to find out if there have been whooping cough outbreaks in your area and how to proceed. Starting treatment with in the first few weeks of symptoms has the greatest effect on a quicker recovery versus waiting to see if it is "just a cold."

If you or someone in your family is exposed to a confirmed case of whooping cough, call your health care provider immediately for direction.

As whooping cough is tested through a culture swab sent to a lab, the results are tracked and reported to the CDC. You can visit www.cdc.gov/ and determine if there are outbreaks in your area.


1) Pertussis (Whooping Cough). Web. 6 June, 2012.

2) Pertussis: An Overview of the Disease, Immunization, and Trends for Nurses. Web. 6 June, 2012.

Reviewed June 7, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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