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Whooping cough (pertussis)

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a bacterial infection of the lining of the respiratory tract (breathing tubes). It is known as whooping cough because of the "whooping" sound that people make when gasping for air after a fit of coughing.

Symptoms of whooping cough

Early symptoms of pertussis mimic that of a common cold (runny nose, watery, red eyes, fever, sneezing, feeling unwell).
Other symptoms include:
  • Not wanting to eat

  • Dry cough- that gets worse over about 2 weeks, and can last for months

  • Long coughing spells

  • Sudden coughing spells

  • Thick mucus

  • Whooping sound, as they try to get their breath (not always heard)

  • The face may change colour-red or bluish, while coughing

  • Small blood vessels in the skin of the face may break, causing small red spots on the skin

  • Coughing may be worse at night

  • Vomiting (throwing up) because of the amount of coughing

Should you see a doctor?

You should see a doctor for:
  • Follow-up appointments

  • Trouble breathing

  • Noisy breathing

  • Ear aches

  • Slow or stopped breathing spells

  • Signs of dehydration (dry mouth, extreme thirst, little or no urine/pee)

  • Confusion

  • High fever

  • Coughing up green or yellow mucus

  • Signs of a hernia: bulging spots in the abdomen (stomach)

  • Seizures

How is whooping cough spread?

Whooping cough is very contagious. It is spread by sneezing and coughing.

Treating whooping cough

It is generally treated with antibiotics, which are used to control the symptoms and to prevent infected people from spreading the disease. 

More information about whooping cough

  • Talk to your family doctor or other health care provider

  • Visit HealthLink BC or call 8-1-1 for free

  • Get the facts about whooping cough at the VCH Communicable Disease Control website:

Information for health care professionals and child care facilities

SOURCE: Whooping cough (pertussis) ( )
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