Pertussis Information

What is Pertussis? (Whooping Cough)

Pertussis (whooping cough) is an infection of the lungs. It starts 6-20 days after you are infected with a runny nose, sneezing and a cough. The cough gradually gets worse with coughing fits; 10-15 coughs in a row. Often, the cough comes on so quickly that there is no time to cover your mouth. The person may cough so much that they throw up. Young children may cough and as they try to get air into their lungs a “whoop” sound is heard. Very young babies may not cough, but instead turn blue and have a hard time breathing.

How is Pertussis Spread?

It is most commonly spread when the infected person coughs and the bacteria go into the air. Someone within 3 feet breathes in the bacteria that are coughed into the air. This bacteria needs to be in the warmth of your nose or lungs to survive and grow. You can also be infected if you touch the runny nose or wet tissues used by the infected person then put your hands to your eyes or nose. If it falls onto a desk or the floor and dries, it cannot infect anyone.

Prevention Practices:

Most children and many adults have had shots to help protect them from pertussis. Although the shots are good for this, they do not always keep you from getting the disease. When this happens you have a milder case of pertussis that looks like a cold with a cough that lasts longer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends antibiotics for those who have been within 3 feet of someone with pertussis. It takes 5 full days of the right antibiotics to make the infected person not contagious. Without antibiotics, they can spread the disease to others for 21 days! This disease can be deadly for infants, elderly and those with long term illnesses like cancer.

Every time the laboratory test is positive for whooping cough, Iowa law requires the laboratory to tell the health department. The health department staff talks with the person or their parent to find out who has been around the person with pertussis since they started coughing.Then we can let those exposed to the infected person know what to do.

For those who could have been easily infected (sit close to the infected person in the classroom, have had face to face contact or have been in car with them) we recommend antibiotics. For others who have not been so close and are less likely to have been infected, we recommend they call their doctor if they get cold-like symptoms and/or a cough.

The goal is to slow or stop the spread of this disease and prevent people from dying from it.

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