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Whooping cough

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory infection that typically causes severe coughing fits. Vaccination has led to a significant decrease in whooping cough cases, hence the importance of following each province's vaccination schedule.

The first symptoms usually appear 7 to 10 days after infection. Whooping cough lasts 6 to 10 weeks and progresses in three stages.

  • In the first stage, the infected person develops cold-like symptoms with abundant nasal discharge lasting 7 to 10 days.
  • In the second stage, they start to have prolonged, uncontrollable coughing fits. These may be followed by vomiting. After a coughing fit, the infected person may produce a characteristic whooping sound when breathing in. This stage lasts 1 to 6 weeks.
  • The third stage is a period of convalescence, where symptoms gradually improve.

Babies under age 1 who get whooping cough are at risk of developing more serious complications that require hospitalization. Deaths are rare and generally occur in infants under 6 months of age.

Causes

Whooping cough is caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. Transmission occurs by direct contact with infected throat or nasal discharges. These secretions can also be spread through airborne droplets when coughing. If the infected person doesn't receive treatment, they're contagious up to 3 weeks after their first cough symptoms appear. Otherwise, they're contagious up to 5 days after the start of treatment. A person who is no longer coughing is unlikely to infect someone else.

Prevention and treatment

The best way to protect yourself is through vaccination. Vaccinated people can still get the disease, but in a much milder form.

Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics.

When should I see a health care professional?

Speak with your health care provider in the following cases.

  • You have any of the symptoms below:
    • You're coughing excessively or persistently
    • Your cough causes you to vomit
    • Your cough affects your breathing
    • You make a characteristic whooping sound when breathing in after a cough
    • Your lips turn red, blue, or purple during a coughing fit
  • You've been in contact with someone with whooping cough

For more information:
Public Health Agency of Canada
www.canada.ca/en/public-health

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