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What is it

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a contagious infection of the lungs and airways.1 The infection occurs year round everywhere in the world.1 Each year in Canada between 1,000 to 3,000 people develops pertussis.1

Who is at risk

Anyone can catch and spread pertussis.2 Children who have not been vaccinated or are under-vaccinated are at risk of developing pertussis.1 Children under 1 year old are at the most risk.1 In particular, infants under 2 months of age are highly vulnerable as immunization programs begin at 2 months.3

What are the symptoms

Symptoms appear 7 to 10 days after infection with the bacteria but could appear as late as 28 days later.4 Symptoms start out with a mild fever, runny nose, red watery eyes and a cough.4 The cough may worsen into coughing fits that lasts for 2 to 8 weeks and cause difficulty breathing, choking and/or vomiting.4

Symptoms are less severe in older children and adults, and may appear as cold-like symptoms with a constant cough that lasts longer than a week.4

Symptoms for infants include:4

  • Severe cough (some do not cough)
  • Choking after coughing
  • Feeding poorly
  • Having difficulty breathing

How is it spread

Pertussis is caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis.2 The bacteria are spread through aerosol transmission from the cough or sneeze of an infected person.2

Pertussis is most contagious during the first two weeks after coughing starts.5

How is it prevented

A child under 6 years old needs five doses of the pertussis vaccine, starting at 2 months of age.6,7,8 A booster dose is required as protection may fade over time.6

You may need a booster dose if:6,9

  • You're a teen between 14 and 16 years
  • You're an adult and you were not immunized against pertussis
  • You are past 26 weeks of pregnancy and require your adult booster dose

Adults and older children that are around infants and young children should be vaccinated.6,9 Booster doses should be given at least 2 weeks before being in contact with the infant.6

How is it treated

Pertussis can be treated with antibiotics.10 Keep away from children and infants until you have taken at least five days' worth of antibiotics.10 Medical advice is recommended for the onset of symptoms. For further information regarding whooping cough and immunization, please speak with your healthcare provider.


  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. Pertussis (whooping cough). (2014). http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vpd-mev/pertussis-eng.php
  2. Public Health Agency of Canada. Pertussis (whooping cough) Causes. (2017). http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vpd-mev/pertussis/causes-eng.php
  3. Public Health Agency of Canada. Pertussis (whooping cough) Risks. (2014). http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vpd-mev/pertussis/risks-risques-eng.php
  4. Public Health Agency of Canada. Pertussis (whooping cough) Symptoms. (2014). http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vpd-mev/pertussis/symptoms-symptomes-eng.php
  5. Public Health Agency of Canada. Pertussis (whooping cough) For Health Professionals. (2014). http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vpd-mev/pertussis/professionals-professionnels-eng.php
  6. Public Health Agency of Canada. Pertussis (whooping cough) Prevention. (2014). http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vpd-mev/pertussis/prevention-eng.php
  7. Sanofi Pasteur Pediacel Product Monograph. (2012) https://www.vaccineshoppecanada.com/document.cfm?file=Pediacel_E.pdf
  8. Sanofi Pasteur Quadracel Product Monograph. (2011) https://www.vaccineshoppecanada.com/document.cfm?file=Quadracel_E.pdf
  9. Sanofi Pasteur Adacel Product Monograph. (2012) https://www.vaccineshoppecanada.com/document.cfm?file=ADACEL_E.pdf
  10. Public Health Agency of Canada. Pertussis (whooping cough) Treatment. (2014). http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/vpd-mev/pertussis/treatment-traitement-eng.php