African American Male Speaking with Doctor

Pertussis, also called “whooping cough,” is a disease caused by respiratory bacteria. It begins like a cold, with a runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and cough that slowly gets worse into strong “coughing fits.” This type of coughing may last for six or more weeks. To help prevent pertussis, there is a routine  vaccination schedule for babies and children, and the vaccine is also available for all ages. 


Whooping cough spreads when:

  • an infected person coughs or sneezes
  • a person breathes in small particles that has the bacteria in it
  • an infected person shares the same breathing space, such as holding a newborn on your chest


People infected with whooping cough usually show symptoms within 5 to 10 days after coming into contact with the bacteria. It is possible that symptoms do not develop for as long as 3 weeks. Symptoms of whooping cough has 3 stages:

Stage 1: Early Symptoms
Early symptoms can last for 1 to 2 weeks and can include: 

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Low-grade fever (less than 100.4 degrees F) 
  • Mild, occasional cought (babies do not do have this symptom) 
  • Life-threatening puses in breathing (Apnea)
  • Turning blue or putple in babies and young children (cyanosis)

Stage 2: Later Symptoms
Later symptoms can happen 1 to 2 weeks after the first symptoms appear and lasts up to 6 to 10 weeks. In this stage, the main symptom is coughing fits. Coughing fits can cause people to: 

  • Make a high-pitched "whoop" sound when they take a breath in after the end of a coughing fit
  • Vomit during or after coughing fits (paroxysms)
  • Feel very tired after a fit, but feels fine in-between fits
  • Struggle to breathe

Many babies with whooping cough do not have these symptoms, but instead they may turn blue or struggle to breathe. For babies, symptoms may seem like a common cold. 

Stage 3: Recovery
Recover lasts about 2 to 3 weeks. During this stage, the coughing begins to lessen but fits can still occur. For many months after infection, it may be easier to catch other respiratory infections. 


The best way to prevent whooping cough is to get vaccinated. There are two types of vaccines available: DTaP and Tdap. 

Take steps to relieve symptoms

  • There are anitbiotics that treat whooping cough. Please talk to your doctor as early as possible.
  • Use a clean, cool mist humidifer to help loosen mucus and soothe the coughing
  • Wash hands often with soal and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Drink lots of fluids including water, juices, soups, and fruits to prevent dehydation. if you feel dehydrated, please tell your doctor as soon as possible.
  • Do not take cough medicine unless your doctor reommends them

If these tips do not work and symptoms are worsening, especially in babies, go to the nearest hospital or urgent care. 

Pertussis Vaccine Schedule