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Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Information for Providers

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Screening, prevention and treatment

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

Pertussis is common and very contagious. It is caused by Bordetella pertussis. The bacteria infect cilia in the upper respiratory tract. Early symptoms are mild, like the common cold. Patients often experience violent coughing fits (paroxysms). These can be followed by high-pitched gasps (a "whoop" sound) as the patient tries to inhale. Coughing spells can lead to gagging, vomiting, loss of consciousness, incontinence and broken ribs.

Babies are at high risk for severe complications. Most pertussis deaths occur in babies under 2 months of age. Very young infants with pertussis do not always cough. They may experience apnea, poor feeding and failure to thrive. Severe complications 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 way to prevent pertussis. Immunity wanes over time, but is highly effective in infants and young children. Maternal immunization at 27 to 36 weeks gestation has been shown effective in preventing pertussis in the first weeks of life.

Vaccine schedule

  • Infants—3 doses DTaP—at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.
  • Children—2 doses DTaP—at 12 to 18 months and at 4 to 6 years of age.
  • Adolescents—1 dose Tdap—at 11 years of age.
  • Pregnant women—1 dose Tdap between 27 and 36 weeks gestation.
  • Non-pregnant adults—1 dose Tdap.

Report suspected or confirmed cases within 24 hours.

Call (253) 798-6534 or use the Notifiable Conditions Fax FormFor more information, see our Report Notifiable Conditions page.

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