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Definition of Pertussis

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Pertussis: Pertussis, also known as "whooping cough," is a highly contagious, acute respiratory illness characterized by fits of coughing and caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis.

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.

Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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