About Pertussis

Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection that presents as a chronic cough in most patients. It is caused by a bacterium.

What are the symptoms of pertussis?

Symptoms typically begin 5-10 days after an exposure. Sometimes symptoms do not develop for as long as 3 weeks.

Pertussis typically progresses through three stages:

  1. Early symptoms: Mild cold symptoms (runny, stuffed up nose, low grade fever of less than 100.4F) with an intermittent non-productive cough (weeks 1–2).
  2. Later symptoms: Paroxysmal coughing fits—spasms of cough ending with a gasp, whoop, or vomiting after coughing, which can then last for several weeks. Adolescents and adults may have less dramatic symptoms, especially if they’ve been vaccinated for pertussis in the past (weeks 2–6).
  3. Gradual resolution of coughing over a period of two to three weeks (weeks 6–10). Recovery is often slow.

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 despite persisting coughing.

How is pertussis spread?

Pertussis is spread by respiratory droplets that tend to fall to the ground a few feet from a person coughing, laughing, talking, shouting, or singing. Wearing a mask is a very effective way to reduce the risk of transmission.

What actions should I take?

The best way to protect against pertussis is through vaccination. The tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine is a required vaccine at the University of Oregon and most students have received it. This 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 University of Oregon students should call the University Health Services (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 pertussis. We will arrange to take care of you while reducing the risk of exposing other patients.
  • If you don't feel sick and have never been vaccinated for pertussis, please contact UHS or your medical provider to schedule a vaccination appointment or to ask questions.
  • Even if you believe you have been appropriately immunized, treatment with preventive antibiotics is sometimes recommended for certain cases:
    • Pregnant people
    • People who have 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 issues

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 practice good hygiene, you should:

  • Wear a mask. KN95 masks are available for free at the following locations: Hamilton Hall, Global Scholars Hall, Barnhart Hall, EMU O desk, Lillis, and Knight Library.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Put your used tissue in the waste basket.
  • Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands, if you don’t have a tissue.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.

More Information