Pertussis, otherwise known as Whooping Cough, is a highly contagious bacterial illness. Immunization requirements include DTaP or tdap, which include coverage for Pertussis. However, it is not uncommon for students to still become exposed to and acquire Pertussis. It is acquired by having direct contact with the aerosolized respiratory secretions or droplets from an infected person, with a 4-21-day incubation period. The clinical course of Pertussis is divided into 3 stages:
- stage 1: mild cough, runny nose, sneezing, low grade fever, similar to the common cold, most infectious stage. The infected person is now contagious for a minimum of 3 weeks, or until after 5 days of antibiotic treatment.
- stage 2: worsening of the cough, development of the characteristic “whoop” cough
- stage 3: convalescence
The characteristic cough of Pertussis is a spasmodic cough, the person coughs repeatedly, without taking a breath between coughs, ending with a prolonged inhalation which usually has a “whoop” sound. This cough can continue for weeks, even months. The coughing spasm may be so bad that it is accompanied by vomiting, blueness of the lips and around the mouth, and possibly a loss of consciousness. Severe effects can occur with untreated Pertussis, even death, which is why the vaccine is part of every child’s required immunizations. Your doctor's office can test for Pertussis if it is suspected. Pertussis is treated with antibiotics, and early treatment is significantly more effective than waiting until the disease has progressed. This is why your doctor may not wait until after test results are received to begin antibiotic treatment.
Because of the highly contagious nature of this illness, a child with a positive diagnosis cannot return to school until cleared by a physician. In addition, family members will also need to be tested and treated, even if they are not showing symptoms yet, because Pertussis runs through families.
If you are concerned that your child might have Pertussis, please contact your school nurse and child’s primary care physician.