Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious infection of the respiratory tract caused by a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis is the second most frequently reported, vaccine-preventable disease in Canada.
During 2005 and 2006, about 2500 cases were reported annually.
The most noticeable symptom of this infection is severe spells of cough, followed by a
"whoop" sound before the next breath.
The disease can affect people of any age; however, the disease is most severe among young infants. Infants under one year of age and pregnant women in their third trimester are most vulnerable to the effects of pertussis.
In some cases, pertussis can cause serious complications and even death in infants.
Pertussis is spread through droplets in the air from an infected person’s coughs or sneezes. It can also be spread through coming in contact with discharges from an infected person’s nose or throat.
Untreated patients are the most common sources of infection of young infants living in the same household.
Pertussis can be quite unpleasant, especially for young infants. At first, symptoms are similar to those of the common cold. They can include a runny nose, red watery eyes, mild fever and cough. The cough worsens until the infected individual experiences severe coughing spells. These bouts of severe coughing can continue over a period ranging from six to 12 weeks.
Symptoms in adolescents and adults are similar, although "whooping" is less common in adolescents and adults compared to younger children. Almost all of those infected have some type of cough. In 80 per cent of cases the cough lasts more than three weeks.
Symptoms may appear between seven to 10 days after exposure to an infected person, but these symptoms may be delayed for up to 20 days.
Pertussis is most contagious during the first two weeks when symptoms resemble those of a common cold. Contagiousness declines rapidly after that, but may last up to three weeks.
Patients are no longer infectious after five days of treatment with appropriate antibiotics.
The best way to protect against infection is to ensure that both you and your child are fully immunized. A child under six years needs five doses of the Pertussis vaccine, starting at two months of age, to be fully immunized. An additional booster dose, combined with tetanus and diphtheria (Tdap) vaccine, is given routinely to adolescents between 14 to 16 years of age across Canada.
It is recommended that adults not previously immunized against pertussis receive one dose of the Tdap vaccine. Consult your health care provider if you are unsure if you have been immunized against pertussis.
You should see your health care provider if anyone in your household has a cough that lasts longer than a week. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis, and to make sure infected individuals get treatment and avoid close contact with young children.
Proper hand washing may prevent the spread of pertussis, as well as other infectious diseases.
Persons with pertussis may be prescribed antibiotics. An infected individual should stay home and avoid close contact with others until treatment is completed.
Young infants may experience complications such as vomiting after a coughing spell, weight loss, breathing problems, choking spells, pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage, and in rare cases, death.
In most children with pertussis, small areas of lung collapse because mucous blocks the airways. These areas are invaded by other bacteria or viruses, causing pneumonia – an infection of the lung.
Brain damage occurs in approximately one out of every 400 infants who are hospitalized for pertussis. About one out of every 400 hospitalized infants with pertussis dies as a result of either pneumonia or brain damage.
In older children and adults, the disease is less serious and complications are rare. The only sign of infection may be a persistent cough that lasts longer than a week. Older members of a household may be infected without realizing it, and this can pose serious risks to younger children and infants in the home who have not been vaccinated, or those who have not received all five doses of the vaccine.
One to three deaths from pertussis occur each year in Canada, particularly in infants too young to have begun their immunization and in partially immunized infants (e.g., infants who have only received one or two doses).
Yes. The incidence of pertussis in Canada was low during the 1980s but has increased since 1990. Between 1990 and 2004, the annual number of reported cases has ranged from 2,165 to 10,151, although this likely under-represents the true burden because of incomplete diagnosis and reporting. During 2005 and 2006, about 2500 cases were reported annually.