Infectious diseases & vaccines Infectious diseases Pertussis (whooping cough)

What is pertussis?

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a respiratory infection caused by bacteria. It presents a serious health risk to infants under one year of age and young children.


What are the symptoms?

Pertussis begins with cold-like symptoms like a runny nose and fever, but develops into persistent coughing spells that can last for up to two months.

Severe coughing from pertussis can lead to gagging, vomiting, or a “whooping” sound as people try to catch their breath.

Pertussis can cause young children to stop breathing from coughing and can also lead to pneumonia, seizures or brain damage. Infants can die from whooping cough.

How is pertussis spread?

Pertussis is spread easily through coughing, sneezing or contact with someone who has the illness. Adults may have less severe symptoms, but can pass the illness on to others.

Anyone with pertussis, or whooping cough, is contagious for three weeks after coughing starts, or for five days after they begin taking prescribed medication to treat the illness.

What is the best way to protect yourself against pertussis?

Immunization is the best protection against pertussis. Children between four to six years of age who have not yet received their regular booster vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria, polio and pertussis should schedule this immunization with their doctor or through Oxford County Public Health.

Adults between 19 and 64 years of age who were not immunized against pertussis as an adolescent may also need a booster dose.

More information

Oxford County Public Health - Immunization clinic - Whooping cough
Health Canada - Whooping cough (pertussis)
Ontario Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care - Immunization: Whooping cough