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revised November 23, 2015

Arrow BulletPertussis


What is Pertussis?

  • Pertussis, also known as "whooping cough" is a very contagious respiratory illness.
  • It is caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria.
  • These bacteria are present in the respiratory fluids of the mouth, nose and throat of a person infected with the disease.
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What are the symptoms?

  • Pertussis may start with common cold-like symptoms, such as runny nose, mild fever and cough.
  • Symptoms may start between 6 and 20 days after exposure to the pertussis bacteria.
  • The cough often turns into a series of severe coughing spells that can continue over a period of 6 to 12 weeks.
  • A coughing attack may end with a high-pitched whoop as the person gasps for air; children may also vomit.
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Who is at risk?

  • Children less than 1 year of age are most at risk because children in this age group are not yet fully immunized. These children are also most at risk of developing severe complications when exposed to someone with pertussis.
  • Pregnant women who become ill with pertussis in their 3rd trimester (particularly during the last 3 weeks of pregnancy) are at risk of passing the illness on to their baby after it is born.
  • Most other people recover from pertussis without complications
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How is pertussis spread?

  • Pertussis is a contagious disease that is spread from person to person when someone breathes in respiratory droplets from the throat, mouth or nose of an infected person. Examples include:
    • Coughing
    • Sneezing
  • It is most contagious early in the illness up to three weeks after cough starts.
  • Indirect spread through the air or contaminated objects rarely occurs.
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How can pertussis be prevented?

  • Immunization provides the best protection against pertussis.
  • The vaccine to protect against pertussis is provided free in Canada as part of the publicly funded routine immunization schedule for infants, children and teenagers.
  • According to the routine immunization schedule, the vaccine is given at two, four, six and 18 months of age.
  • A booster dose is needed between four and six years of age and again at 14 and16 years of age (10 years after the 4-6 year booster).
  • Immunity decreases over five to 15 years, therefore a booster dose of vaccine is recommended for adults.
  • All adults up to the age of 64 are eligible for one free lifetime dose of tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap).
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Is there a treatment for pertussis?

  • Antibiotics are used for the treatment of pertussis.
  • Antibiotics should be started as soon as possible.
  • A person is no longer infectious after 5 days of antibiotic treatment.
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Who is a Close Contact?

  • Close contacts are persons living in the same household, child care or nursery school, who may have shared saliva with the case. This could be through kissing, sharing toys, foods, drinks or cigarettes.
  • Casual contacts (classroom or fellow workers) are not at increased risk. Sitting next to an infected person or having them cough or sneeze near you is not considered direct contact.
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What is Peel Public Health's role?

  • All cases of pertussis are reported to the health department.
  • The health department's role is to identify and determine close contacts at risk.
  • The health department also answers questions and concerns in the community.
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What is Peel Public Health's advice for contacts?

  • Ensure that your child's immunization against pertussis is up to date and watch for signs and symptoms of pertussis.
  • In some cases, Peel Public Health may advise a contact to take antibiotics to prevent illness.
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Revised: November 23, 2015

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