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Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Information for Schools and Healthcare Providers

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Screening, prevention and treatment resources

This page is for healthcare providers and medical professionals. For more general information, see our Pertussis (Whooping Cough) page.

What is pertussis?

Pertussis is a common and very contagious infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. The bacteria infect cilia in the upper respiratory tract. Early symptoms are mild and resemble the common cold. As the disease progresses, patients often experience violent coughing fits (paroxysms). These can be followed by high-pitched gasps as the patient tries to inhale, resembling a "whoop" sound. Coughing spells may also lead to gagging, vomiting, loss of consciousness and incontinence. In severe cough illness, broken ribs can occur.

Babies are at high risk for severe complications, and most pertussis-related deaths occur in babies under two months of age. Very young infants with pertussis do not always cough, but may experience apnea, poor feeding and failure to thrive. Severe complications in young infants include pneumonia and convulsions.

Pertussis epidemics occur every few years. In 2012, Washington had almost 5,000 reported cases—783 in Pierce County alone.

Vaccination is the best prevention for pertussis. Immunity from vaccination wanes over time, but is highly effective in infants and young children. Maternal immunization during each pregnancy, at 27 to 36 weeks gestation, has been shown to be effective in preventing pertussis in the first weeks of life.

Vaccine Administration

  • Infants: 3 doses DTaP in their first year—at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.
  • Children: DTaP at 12 to 18 months, as well as at 4 to 6 years of age.
  • Adolescents: Tdap at age 11.
  • Pregnant women: Tdap between 27 and 36 weeks of every pregnancy.
  • Non-pregnant adults: one-time dose of Tdap.

Providers must report suspected or confirmed pertussis cases.

To report, visit our Report Notifiable Conditions page or call (253) 798-6534.

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