Pertussis is here. What should you do? 

12/17/2015 by Dr. Robert Jacobson


Pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, has been found in the Rochester community. Many Rochester schools, sports teams and daycare providers are being affected by this recent outbreak. 

Pertussis is a contagious bacterial illness spread by droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The respiratory illness often starts with symptoms of the common cold, such as runny nose, nasal congestion, red, watery eyes, fever and cough. the cough gradually becomes a severe hacking cough. 

In young children, this can lead to repeated coughing, followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like a "whoop." Pertussis may cause difficulty in breathing for young infants, followed by the inability to breather. Pertussis can kill infants and toddlers. Older children, teens and adults may develop just persistent, lasting coughing. That's why the illness is sometimes called the 100-day cough. 

Individuals who we suspect may have pertussis need to be tested. Those diagnosed with pertussis who have had the illness less than 21 days should be treated with antibiotics to prevent the spread. Without antibiotic treatment, the patient will be contagious for 21 days. 

Those at greatest risk of medical complications from pertussis are: 

  • Infants less than 12 months old
  • Patients with chronic respiratory illnesses, including moderate to severe asthma
  • Women in the third trimester of pregnancy
  • Patients whose immune systems are compromised

Preventive treatment with antibiotics should be considered for these patients if they have been exposed to someone with a confirmed, untreated case of pertussis. Here's what would happen: 

  • If there is a lab-confirmed case of pertussis in a household, health care providers will treat all members of the household, even if they do not have symptoms.
  • Household members who do show symptoms will be tested before being treated with antibiotics. 
  • Health care providers will hold off treating other individuals exposed to the patient unless public health officials determine they have had significant exposure to the disease. 

Those tested should stay home and away from friends, neighbors, school and work until the test results are negative. Those whose test results are positive should remain quarantined for five days while they undergo treatment with antibiotics. This is to avoid exposing others. 

After a person with an active case of pertussis has been on antibiotics for five days, they are no longer considered contagious, despite the lingering cough. They can return to normal activities, such as work and school. 

Call your medical provider if you or your child has had a cough for seven days or more. Also call if you have been contacted by a public health official recommending that you or your child be treated for pertussis. 


The best way to prevent whooping cough is with the pertussis vaccine, which is given in a series of five injections starting at two months of age, followed by a single booster at age 11. Those 11 years and older who have not had the Tdap vaccine should receive it now. All pregnant women should receive additional doses of Tdap (with each pregnancy) between 27 and 36 weeks. 

If symptoms develop

If you or your child develop symptoms of pertussis (a cough that lasts seven or more days):

  • Get tested, and remain quarantined until the results come back negative. If they are positive, remain at home and away from others until the five-day antibiotic treatment is completed. 
  • Drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest. 
  • Do not go to work, school or participate in sporting events. 
  • Eat smaller meals to avoid vomiting during coughing spells. 
  • Avoid tobacco smoke and other airway irritants.
  • Cover your cough. 
  • Wash your hands frequently.