More Details on Whooping Cough

How Is It Transmitted?

The whooping cough bacteria are spread through direct contact with an infected person's respiratory secretions. They can be passed either through the air or by touching a contaminated surface.
Whooping cough is a highly contagious infection. A person is most likely to transmit the bacteria that cause pertussis when they are experiencing symptoms, especially during the first three weeks of having symptoms.
(Click Contagious Period for Whooping Cough for a closer look at this topic.)

Incubation Period

When a person is infected with Bordetella pertussis, the bacteria begin multiplying within the lungs. The period between infection and the onset of symptoms is called the incubation period. The whooping cough incubation period is commonly 7 to 10 days, with a range of 4 to 21 days, and rarely may be as long as 42 days.


Once whooping cough symptoms begin, there are generally three stages of the illness.
During the first stage, common symptoms are like a cold or flu and can include:
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Slight fever
  • Dry cough that may get worse at night.
Unlike a cold, the symptoms of whooping cough stick around, and within two weeks, the symptoms get worse. Common symptoms during the next stage can include:
  • Fits of coughing that seem to go on and on
  • Severe coughing spells that may end in a "whooping" sound when the infected person inhales
  • Severe coughing that leads to vomiting, which may make it difficult for a person to eat or drink
  • Skin turning blue during coughing episodes.
In the last stage, symptoms gradually improve, disappearing within two to three weeks. However, fits of coughing often return with other respiratory infections for many months after the symptoms improve.
(Click Whooping Cough Symptoms for a more in-depth discussion on the symptoms of this illness.)
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Whooping Cough Disease

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