Pertussis (or whooping cough) is a bacterial disease caused by the gram negative organism Bordetella pertussis (1,2)
- It is an upper respiratory tract infection with a characteristic, paroxysmal - whooping – cough.
- The organism is found in the back of the throat of an infected person (3).
- Bordetella parapertussis can also be responsible in some cases and is not preventable with presently available vaccines (1,2).
Transmission of the disease is from human to human by droplets (1).
- It is a highly contagious disease with close direct contact with an infected person resulting in transmission of the disease (1).
- Up to 90% of household contacts develops the disease (2).
- Traditionally, droplet transmission has been accepted as occurring within 3 feet of the infected patient but recent studies have suggested that droplets can be dispersed to a distance of 6 feet (1.9 metres) during coughing.
The Chinese refer to whooping cough as the 100 day cough; this description gives the parents some idea of what to expect.
A positive history of pertussis vaccination does not preclude the diagnosis - the vaccination only confers 95% protection. Also, maternal antibody does not appear to confer any significant protection from infection.
In England and Wales, pertussis is a notifiable disease (diagnosis made on clinical ground and laboratory confirmation is not required) (2,3).
- (1) Heininger U. Pertussis: what the pediatric infectious disease specialist should know. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2012;31(1):78-9.
- (2) Public Health England (PHE) 2018. Guidelines for the Public Health Management of Pertussis in England
- (3) Public Health England (PHE). Pertussis brief for healthcare professionals
Last edited 12/2021 and last reviewed 03/2022