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Pertussis (whooping cough)

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What is it?

  • Pertussis is an infection in the airways caused by bacteria.

Signs and symptoms

  • Symptoms start as a common cold with:
  • Sneezing, runny nose, mild fever and a mild cough
  • The cough gets progressively worse.
  • The cough is severe, repeated and forceful. The coughing periods are often followed by vomiting and/or a whoop sound before the next breath.
  • The cough can last many months and is more common at night.
  • Pertussis can cause pneumonia, seizures, brain damage or death.

How is it spread?

  • It is spread by breathing the air of a person who has the bacteria.
  • It can be spread by touching saliva or mucus of a person who has the bacteria.
  • Without medicine, Pertussis can be shared a few days before a person has a cough and up to three weeks after the cough starts.
  • A person with pertussis will be given antibiotics. Household members may be given antibiotics depending on the assessment completed by your Health Care Provider.
  • An infected child should not return to school until they have taken antibiotics for 5 days and feel well enough to return.

How to Decrease the Spread?

  • The best way to protect yourself and others is to be vaccinated.  Some people who have been vaccinated may still get pertussis but is a milder form of the disease than those who have not been vaccinated.
  • Wash your hands often.  Avoid your touching face, nose and eyes.
  • Use good coughing technique by coughing into your sleeve.

Pregnant women:
Pregnant women in their third trimester and infants under one are at the highest risk of complications and should be treated with antibiotics. Call your Health Care Provider.

Recommended Absence

5 days after treatment with appropriate antibiotics

If untreated, approximately 3 weeks

Pertussis must be reported to the Medical Officer of Health as required by the Health Promotion and Protection Act.


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