Whooping cough, a communicable, potentially deadly illness characterized by fits of coughing followed by a noisy, "whooping" indrawn breath. It is caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. The illness is most likely to affect young children, but sometimes appears in teenagers and adults, even those who have been previously immunized. Immunization with DPT (diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus) vaccine provides protection, although that immunity may wear off with age. In adolescents or adults with history of prior infection or vaccine-induced immunity, classic manifestations may or may not occur. The only symptom may be prolonged cough.
During the early phase of pertussis, antibiotic treatment may decrease the duration and severity of cough, but, among adolescents and adults, the diagnosis is rarely established during this phase. Antibiotic treatment later in the course of disease probably does not affect the course of symptoms, but may be useful to reduce the spread of the infection. Treatment is usually supportive therapy. See also: DPT immunization, DTaP immunization.