What Is It?

Pertussis, commonly known as the whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. A typical case of pertussis in children and adults starts with a cough and runny nose for 1 to 2 weeks, followed by weeks to months of rapid coughing fits that sometimes end with a whooping sound. Fever, if present, is usually mild.

The disease is treatable with antibiotics or vaccines. Pertussis can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening complications, such as pneumonia, seizures, or brain damage in infants, young children and the elderly (especially those who are not fully vaccinated).

With proper treatment, most people recover from whooping cough without complications.