Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

What is Pertussis?

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that is found throughout the world. Pertussis was one of the most common causes of childhood deaths prior to the availability of a vaccine.

Since the widespread use of the vaccine began, deaths from have decreased dramatically. Because the bacteria are so widespread, most communities, including South Carolina, can expect cases of the disease each year. Pertussis most commonly affects infants and young children.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms at the start of the infection period are very similar to those of a cold. The cough gradually becomes more severe 1-2 weeks after the initial symptoms. The cough is often accompanied by a characteristic "whoop" at the end of a coughing attack. This stage could last 6 weeks or longer (even after treatment) before the symptoms usually begin to subside.

Infants can have unusual symptoms, such as episodes of not breathing (apnea), rapid breathing, or discoloration (cyanosis).

How is Pertussis treated?

Antibiotics may be used both for treatment of the disease and--depending on the timing and duration--as prevention for close contacts of infected people. Other treatment is largely of a supportive type such as rest and plenty of liquids.

How do people catch this disease?

Pertussis is most often spread by contact with respiratory droplets of an infected person. It is a highly communicable disease and can spread to as many as 4 out of 5 close household contacts.

What can be done to stop the spread of this disease?

There are vaccines for infants, children, preteens, teens and adults. The childhood vaccine is called DTaP, and the pertussis booster vaccine for adolescents and adults is called Tdap.

It is important for adults, especially child-bearing age women to get a Tdap booster.

How do I know if I should take my child to the doctor?

Anyone with a cough lasting longer than 2 weeks, or a cough that leads to gagging, vomiting or trouble catching breath, should see their doctor.

References and Additional Information



S.C. Pertussis Data (DHEC)


Health Infectious Diseases