Pertussis Information

Pertussis bacteria spread through the air when people cough. It can start like a common cold, and then progresses to a cough that might get worse over the next 1-2 weeks. There is usually no fever (or only a very mild one). People with pertussis have coughing spells that may last several seconds. As they catch their breath at the end of each coughing spell, they may loudly gasp (“whoop”) and vomit or choke. Pertussis symptoms can last for 6-9 weeks.

People usually get sick within 1-2 weeks of being exposed to pertussis; however, it can take as long as three weeks to develop symptoms. If your child becomes ill with the symptoms described above, please see your healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis of pertussis.

Some people have a higher risk of severe illness if they get pertussis. These people include:

  • Babies younger than 6 months of age (particularly premature infants)
  • Unimmunized infants and children
  • People with a weakened immune system
  • Persons with neuromuscular disease (for example: Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis)
  • Persons who have severe underlying disease such as chronic lung disease or cystic fibrosis

Additionally, anyone who has a lot of contact with high risk groups (such as the parents or siblings of a newborn or someone who works in the healthcare industry) can pass pertussis on to people who may become very ill if they catch it. If you have symptoms of a cold or a cough, remember to cough/sneeze into your elbow and see your healthcare provider if you are concerned about pertussis. Antibiotics given within three weeks of the start of symptoms can help make you less contagious to others. If you have questions or concerns, please call Sonoma County Disease Control at (707) 565-
4567 or e-mail to speak with a public health nurse.