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Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is an extremely contagious respiratory tract infection caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis.

Learn About Pertussis

Pertussis most commonly occurs in preschool and school-age children but can occur at any age. Infection can occur throughout the year, but in North America, its activity peaks in summer and fall.

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Pertussis Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors

Pertussis is very contagious. People who are unimmunized and or living in the same household as an infected individual are at highest risk for infection. Symptoms can vary among the various age groups—from coughing associated with a whooping sound to vomiting after a coughing spell.

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Diagnosing and Treating Pertussis

Even if someone has all of the signs and symptoms of pertussis, your doctor will likely order a laboratory test to confirm it. Once a diagnosis is made or suspected exposure has been determined, antibiotic therapy should be started.

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Living With Pertussis

Though pertussis is not a lifelong illness, it can be debilitating and have a relatively prolonged course—up to 3 to 6 months.  Universal childhood vaccinations has dramatically reduced the number of cases of pertussis in infants and children. However, the number of adults with pertussis has recently started to rise.

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Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Pertussis

Making notes before your visit, as well as taking along a trusted family member or friend, can help you through the first appointment with your doctor. Here are some questions to ask about pertussis (whooping cough).

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This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.

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