Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial infection that is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe. After fits of many coughs, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths which result in a “whooping” sound.


Symptoms appear from 5 - 21 days after exposure to the bacteria, but sometimes not for as long as 6 weeks in infants. The disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough or fever. After 1 - 2 weeks, severe coughing may begin. Unlike the common cold, pertussis can become a series of coughing fits that continue for weeks. In infants, the cough can be minimal. Infants may experience apnea, which is a pause in the breathing pattern. Extreme coughing can cause vomiting and fatigue.

Possible Complications

Young infants are at highest risk for complications. Complications include pneumonia, convulsions, apnea, ear infection, weight loss, loss of bladder control, passing out, broken ribs, brain disorders, and death.

Spreading Pertussis

Pertussis is spread through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes while in close contact with others. People treated with appropriate antibiotics can still spread the disease until they have taken antibiotics for a full 5 days. If antibiotics are not taken, the person can be contagious from the onset of symptoms until 3 weeks after the coughing spells start.

Who gets it?

Pertussis can occur at any age. Severe illness is more common in young children who have not been immunized. Older children, adolescents, or adults who have been immunized often have milder symptoms, but can be the source of infection for infants and young children.


Antibiotics are used to treat pertussis. After 5 days of treatment, a person is no longer contagious even if he or she is still coughing.


The best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated. The vaccination for pertussis is included in the DTaP vaccine for children under 7 years of age, who should get 4 doses by 15 months, and a booster at 4 to 6 years of age. A single dose of Tdap for children 7 - 10 years of age who were under immunized with DTaP is now recommended. Adolescents and adults, ages 11 years and older, should get a Tdap vaccine. Pregnant women should receive a Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy, ideally between 27 and 36 weeks gestation, although Tdap may be given at any time during pregnancy. Ideally, administer Tdap at least 2 weeks before beginning close contact with an infant.

Where to get Tdap vaccine in Whatcom County

For children less than 19 years:
Private healthcare provider
Whatcom County Health Department (by appointment only)
For adults 19 years and older:
Private healthcare provider
For both children and adults:
Use the vaccine finder to find a location to receive your immunization.

Required Reporting

The law (WAC 246-101-201) requires that all suspected cases of Pertussis be reported to the local health department within 24 hours.