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"What is pertusis?"

ZocdocAnswersWhat is pertusis?


My doctor is recommending that our baby get vaccinated soon for pertussis, which I've never heard of. What is pertussis? Is there a good reason to get the vaccine, or is it rare enough that we can skip this vaccine without accepting any serious risk for our daughter in the long term?


Pertussis, also known as Whooping Cough, is the illness caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. The "whoop" does not actually describe the way that the cough sounds, but rather refers to the sound caused by the gasp of breathing in after a fit of coughing. It is classically heard in children due to the smaller size of the airways, but can occasionally be heard in adults with the disease as well.

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Pertussis classically causes initial symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection, including runny nose, cough and sneezing. Usually 1-2 weeks after transmission of the bacteria, the patient begins a period of intense coughing that can last 1-2 months. These patients typically experience severe fits of coughing which can occur throughout the day, and are often followed by an episode of vomiting. While most adolescents and older adults make a full recovery from Pertussis, newborns can experience a particularly severe infection with complications including pneumonia and even death. For this reason, vaccination programs against Pertussis have been a major public health campaign for children. While it is a relatively rare illness, lack of booster vaccinations in the adult population have led to several small outbreaks in recent years, and numbers of affected patients continue to grow, putting newborns at renewed risk of infection. For this reason, vaccination continues to be strongly encouraged in all age groups.

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