Pertussis: What to look for and when to be treated


ROCHESTER, Minn. — Pertussis is a contagious bacterial illness spread when a person coughs or sneezes. Those at greatest risk of medical complications include infants less than 1 year old; patients with chronic respiratory illnesses, including moderate to severe asthma; women in the third trimester of pregnancy; and patients with compromised immune systems.

Symptoms are similar to a common cold such as runny nose, nasal congestion, red, watery eyes, fever and cough. However, the cough gradually becomes a severe hacking cough. In young children, this can lead to repeated coughing followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like a “whoop.”

Mayo Clinic experts advise if you or your child has had a cough for seven or more days, contact your medical provider. Individuals who are suspected to have pertussis must be tested and, if diagnosed, will be treated with antibiotics.

Contagious without treatment
Dr. Robert Jacobson, a pediatrician at Mayo Clinic Children’s Center, advises, “Those exposed to pertussis should stay home and away from friends, neighbors, school and work until the tests results are negative. If a person is tested positive, he or she should remain quarantined for five days while he or she is being treated with antibiotics.”

Those diagnosed with pertussis who have had the illness fewer than 21 days should be treated with antibiotics to prevent the spread. Without antibiotic treatment, the patient will be contagious for up to 21 days, says Jacobson.

He adds that the best way to prevent pertussis is with the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine. Those 11 years and older who have not had the Tdap vaccine should receive it now. Also, all pregnant women should receive additional doses of Tdap during each pregnancy between 27 and 36 weeks.


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