Pertussis is a vaccine preventable respiratory illness commonly known as whooping cough. It is a very contagious disease caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. These bacteria attach to the cilia (tiny, hair-like extensions) that line part of the upper respiratory system. The bacteria release toxins (poisons), which damage the cilia and cause airways to swell.38 It can cause serious illness in babies, children, teens, and adults. Symptoms of pertussis usually develop within 5 to 10 days after you are exposed. Sometimes pertussis symptoms do not develop for as long as 3 weeks. The disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough or fever. In babies, the cough can be minimal or not even there. Babies may have a symptom known as “apnea.” Apnea is a pause in the child’s breathing pattern. Pertussis is most dangerous for babies. About half of babies younger than 1 year who get the disease need care in the hospital. Early symptoms can last for 1 to 2 weeks and usually include:
Low-grade fever (generally minimal throughout the course of the disease)
Mild, occasional cough
Apnea – a pause in breathing (in babies) Pertussis in its early stages appears to be nothing more than the common cold. Therefore, healthcare professionals often do not suspect or diagnose it until the more severe symptoms appear. After 1 to 2 weeks and as the disease progresses, the traditional symptoms of pertussis may appear and include:
Paroxysms (fits) of many, rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched “whoop” sound (babies with pertussis may not cough at all)
Vomiting (throwing up) during or after coughing fits
Exhaustion (very tired) after coughing fits
Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing, over and over, until the air is gone from your lungs. When there is no more air in the lungs, you are forced to inhale with a loud “whooping” sound
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