About Pertussis

Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a contagious respiratory tract infection that presents as an acute cough in most patients. It is caused by a bacterium. Pertussis is spread by respiratory droplets from an infected person who is coughing, that are then breathed in by people within six (6) feet of an infected person. Less commonly, pertussis is spread by direct contact with respiratory secretions. Pertussis also is known as the “100-day cough” because symptoms can last for weeks, even months.

Is pertussis contagious?

Yes. Pertussis cases are most contagious for the first two weeks of illness (when cases have cold‐like symptoms), and at the beginning of the coughing phase. Thereafter contagiousness gradually decreases and becomes negligible by about three weeks after coughing onset.

What are the symptoms of pertussis?

Pertussis symptoms typically begin five to ten days after exposure. Sometimes symptoms can take as long as three weeks (twenty-one days) to develop.

Pertussis typically progresses through three stages:

  1. Early symptoms (weeks one to two): Mild cold symptoms (runny, stuffed up nose, low grade fever of less than 100.4F) with an intermittent non-productive cough.
  2. Later symptoms (weeks two to six): Coughing fits—spasms of cough ending with a gasp, whoop, or vomiting after coughing—which can then last for several weeks. While the risk of serious complications in young, healthy people is generally low, these coughing fits can be disruptive and sometimes intense enough to cause broken ribs. Adolescents and adults who have been vaccinated for pertussis may have less dramatic symptoms.
  3. Gradual recovery (weeks six to ten): Gradual resolution of coughing over a period of two to three weeks. Recovery is often slow!

What actions should I take?

  • The best way to protect against pertussis is with vaccination. The tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine is a required vaccine at the University of Oregon. Being up to date with Tdap means having had a Tdap vaccine in the past ten years, after age eleven. You can check the myUOHealth portal (“Immunization” tab) to see if you are up to date with Tdap vaccine. If you aren’t up to date with Tdap vaccination, you can get vaccinated at UHS, and appointments are available through the myUOHealth portal (“Appointments” tab). Tdap vaccine is very effective but not perfect. Occasionally, even those who have been appropriately vaccinated with Tdap may still become ill, though not as severely.
  • If you suspect that you have symptoms of pertussis, seek medical care. UO students can call their own healthcare providers or UHS at 541-346-2770. Please let UHS staff know that you have possible symptoms of pertussis or have been in contact with someone who has a suspected or confirmed case of pertussis.
  • People in certain high-risk populations should consider post-exposure prophylaxis with antibiotics. These populations include:
    • Infants and pregnant people, especially pregnant persons in their third trimester
    • People who have close contact with a pregnant person or an infant
    • All those attending or working in a childcare setting
    • If you have asthma, a weakened immune system, or other underlying medical issue

Contact your healthcare provider or call UHS for an appointment at 541-346-2770.

Prevent the spread of pertussis

Like many respiratory illnesses, pertussis spreads by coughing and sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the bacteria. CDC recommends practicing good hygiene to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses. To decrease the risk of contracting pertussis:

  • Wear a mask; KN95 or KN94 masks are more effective than surgical masks, though surgical masks are still effective.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub for at least twenty seconds.

Resources for more information