Symptoms and Signs of Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

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Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Doctor's Notes on Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is an airway infection with the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. The infection is extremely contagious and causes symptoms that occur in three stages. Early symptoms of whooping cough are similar to those of a cold and include sneezing, runny nose, and a mild fever. The characteristic cough that produces the “whoop” sound occurs during the second, or paroxysmal, stage of infection. The third stage is the recovery stage in which the coughing symptoms lessen and improve over time.

Symptoms are most severe during the second stage. In addition to the characteristic cough that comes in bursts, other associated symptoms can include bluish skin during a coughing attack, vomiting (following a cough attack), and exhaustion. Ypung infants are at greatest risk of complications from whooping cough.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.