Childr Health Information

Pertussis CHIS #1221

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Topic: Diseases & Conditions

This handout was written to answer some of the questions most often asked about pertussis.  Feel free to ask your child’s health care provider to go over any information you do not understand.

What is pertussis?

Pertussis is an infection in the airways of the lungs caused by a bacteria.  It is very contagious (easily spread).  Pertussis is found most often and is most serious in infants and young children.  Infants and young children who have not had their baby shots may get pertussis.

What are the symptoms of pertussis?

  • Pertussis usually starts with flu-like symptoms:  sneezing, dry cough, slight fever, fussiness and loss of appetite or poor feeding.
  • This is followed by two to six weeks of many coughing spells.  Your child may have as many as five to 50 coughing spells per day.
  • After these coughing spells your child may vomit or spit up a large amount of mucus.
  • Bottle feeding, yawning, sneezing or breathing in cold air or smoke can start a coughing spell.
  • Pertussis is sometimes called whooping cough because after a coughing spell some children end their cough with a “whoop” sound.  Not all children do this, particularly infants.

The illness usually lasts six to 12 weeks, with the number of coughing spells decreasing gradually.

Can pertussis be spread to others?

Pertussis can be spread to other children and adults.  A person can get Pertussis by close contact with an infected person.  The germs are often spread by sneezing and coughing them into the air.

How is pertussis treated?

  • Your child will be put on an antibiotic to treat the infection.  This will also help to keep from spreading the infection to others.  Your child should be on the antibiotic for 5 days before returning to child care or school.  Anyone in close contact may also need to take the antibiotic.
  • While in the hospital your child will be put in droplet isolation.  Visitors and staff will need to wear a mask when close to the patient.
  • Your child may need extra oxygen to help him or her breath more easily.
  • After coughing spells, he or she may need to have mucus suctioned from his or her nose and mouth.
  • If your child is vomiting a lot or not taking fluids well, he or she may need IV fluids.

What can I do for my child at home?

  • Stay calm.  Coughing spells can be scary to both you and your child.
  • Your child will need more rest than usual.
  • A mist humidifier or vaporizer may be used to help your child breathe easier.
  • Offer small amounts of fluids often.  Give fluids such as Pedialyte or Pedialyte popsicles rather than standard juice or water.
  • Keep your child away from dirt, smoke and dust since these can cause more coughing spells.
  • Give all of the antibiotic ordered even if your child seems to be getting better.

When should I call the doctor?

  • your child seems to be getting worse in any way
  • your child’s coughing spells happen more often or become worse
  • your child has a fever 101.5º or higher
  • your child is not taking fluids well, your child is not urinating (peeing) at least 4 to 5 times per day


  • your child turns blue with a coughing spell
  • if your child chokes or gags and stops breathing

 This handout is for general information only and should not be considered complete. For specific information about pertussis, please ask your child’s health care provider.

PDF: Pertussis CHIS #1221

Derechos de autor(c) de The Children's Medical Center, ano 1999. Este material unicamente tiene fines educativos. No puede ser reproducido, distribuido ni modificado sin previa autorizacion de The Children's Medical Center of Dayton, One Children's Plaza, Dayton, Ohio, 45404-1815. Llame al 937-641-3666 para solicitar autorizacion o para obtener un juego maestro para copias. Para obtener mas informacion puede visitar (consulte la seccion de informacion legal).

La informacion contenida en este material es unicamente informacion de tipo general. No debe considerarse como completa. Para obtener mas informacion acerca de los complementos para leche materna, por favor pidala a su doctor.
Preparado: 1995
Corregido: 2000, 2002, 2008, 2011
Revisado: 2005, 2008

The information contained in this handout is for general information only and should not be considered complete. For specific information about bathing your baby, please ask your doctor or nurse practitioner.

Additional information may be located in the Family Resource Center, 2nd floor, near the Outpatient Surgery Center. Hours of the center vary; please contact the Family Resource Center at 937-641-3700.

Copyright(c) The Children's Medical Center of Dayton. This material is for educational purposes only. It cannot be reproduced or distributed without permission from Dayton Children's.
Formulated: 1995
Revised: 2000, 2002, 2008, 2011
Reviewed: 2005, 2008


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