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Pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, is caused by a bacterium that lives in the mouth, nose and throat. The germ is highly contagious and easily spreads from person to person. The germ is spread by coughing and sneezing. An infected person is contagious from just before onset of symptoms until up to 3 weeks after symptoms start.

Symptoms usually appear 5-10 days after exposure. The first symptoms are similar to those of a common cold: a runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever and a mild, occasional cough. The cough gradually becomes severe and, after 1-2 weeks, the patient has spasmodic bursts of numerous, rapid coughs. The characteristic high-pitched "whoop" comes from breathing in after a coughing episode. During such an attack, the patient may turn blue, vomit and become exhausted. Coughing attacks occur more frequently at night and may last as long as 10 weeks.

Treatment is usually with antibiotics. People in close contact with children or adults with pertussis usually need to be treated with antibiotics.

Children are vaccinated for pertussis with childhood routine vaccination. Because of the recent increase in cases, a new vaccine TDaP (Tetanus, Diphtheria, and acellular Pertussis) is now recommended as a booster dose for adolescents between the ages of 11-18 and as the booster dose for those needing to be immunized at a 10-year interval or a 5 year interval for wound management.


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