Diseases Home > Whooping Cough

Also known as pertussis, whooping cough is a contagious infection of the respiratory system. It is caused by bacteria and transmitted through direct contact with an infected person's respiratory secretions. Early symptoms of whooping cough are often similar to those seen with the flu but then progress to severe coughing spells characterized by a "whooping" sound when the person inhales. Treatment generally involves antibiotics and supportive care.

What Is Whooping Cough?

Whooping cough (also known as pertussis) is a respiratory system infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It is characterized by severe coughing spells that may end in a "whooping" sound when the infected person inhales.

Who Is Affected By It?

With the number of reported outbreaks of whooping cough on the rise in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there is a need to protect adolescents and adults, as well as children, against this highly contagious respiratory infection. Commonly thought of as a childhood illness, whooping cough actually affects people of all ages.
According to the CDC, 5,000 to 7,000 cases of the illness are reported in the United States each year. Moreover, the condition has been increasingly reported among adolescents and adults in the last several years. This is important because those who have a cough may not realize that they have whooping cough and may be the primary source of infection for infants, who have the greatest risk of dying from the disease.

Cause of Whooping Cough

The cause of the illness is an infection with bacteria. The bacterium that causes whooping cough is called Bordetella pertussis (B. pertussis).
(Click Causes of Whooping Cough for more information on this topic.)
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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