Pertussis outbreaks typically spread in a specific region and create a localized epidemic throughout the year. In 2012, the United States experienced five main statewide outbreaks of the bacterial infection causing whooping cough, an upper respiratory infection that can become life-threatening. As the bacteria spreads rapidly, some states saw several thousand residents with pertussisPertussis Infections, making a total of about 42,000 cases. For the states most affected, including Washington, Colorado, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, this accounted for a record year of pertussis outbreaks.

In fact, 2012 saw a greater number of pertussis infections than any other in the U.S. since 1955, leading many to doubt the vaccine’s effectiveness.

A total of seven doses are currently prescribed throughout a young person’s life at two, four and six months old, with boosters at 15-18 months, 4-6 years, 10 years, and once as an adult. According to Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Center for Disease Control, the vaccine should also be given to more adults – especially those who are parents and caretakers. Dr. Schuchat claims that about half of the cases in 2012 occurred in infants less than 3 months old, and though at that age they should have already been immunized, she says the shot doesn’t work properly at that age.

Though pertussis was once considered more common among infants and young children, hence the vaccinations given to children before entering school, people of any age can become infected and ill. Dr. Schuchat suggests that more adults who are near children, like mothers and pregnant women, get the vaccine to avoid further outbreaks such as this one. Research may agree with this statement, as several studies show that many times, infants obtain the disease from older persons who are unaware they are infected.

Pertussis is caused by either the Bordetella pertussis or Bordetella parapertussis bacteria, which then creates a serious disease. The bacteria attach to the cilia lining a portion of the upper respiratory system and release toxins, thus damaging the cilia and causing the area to swell. The disease spreads easily as it is transported through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, making anyone within range susceptible to infection. It is essential for children to get immunized for pertussis, as they have the highest risk of lifelong disability and fatality from this bacteria.


Pertussis Symptoms

Regardless of your age, pertussis can lead to severe symptoms, which, of course, include the deep “whooping” sound emitted from your chest. The infection usually begins by feeling like a common cold, paired at times with a slight cough and/or fever. One or two weeks later, a severe cough may develop. You will be able to tell that your illness has surpassed cold status as it only worsens after a week or two, not disappearing in a matter of days. Coughing fits may last for weeks, sometimes up to six.

Within the first 1 to 2 weeks the disease is highly contagious, and symptoms typically include:

  • Moderate, periodic cough
  • Fever (usually minimal throughout the course of the illness)
  • Runny nose
  • Apnea in infants

Pertussis Symptoms


Pertussis Treatment

As pertussis is a bacteria, not a virus, it can be treated in the early stages with an antibiotic. A common medications for this strain of bacteria is erythromycin, which can help symptoms clear more quickly. The down side is that pertussis infections are often diagnosed too late, as the first few weeks closely resemble cold symptoms. Even so, once an antibiotic is taken, the patient becomes less contagious and unable to infect others. However, if the disease is still present after three weeks without treatment, medications will not help, as the bacteria has left your body. Symptoms may still be present as a result of the damage caused by the infection, but the Bordetello pertussis is no longer present.

Infants under 18 months need to be cared for most diligently, as they can develop apnea and stop breathing during the coughing fits. It is common for babies to require hospitalization for pertussis, if the symptoms become severe. Adults can also progress into a state worthy of inpatient care. Hospitals typically administer intravenous fluids if the coughing fits are so serious that it prevents the patient from drinking. They may also use an oxygen tent with high humidity.

Avoid cough medicines at all costs when you have pertussis. Going into the doctor as soon as your symptoms are present is key, as you can treat the infection before it does any serious damage. Treating the illness on your own (and not knowing of the source) can be dangerous when taking cough medicines, expectorants, and suppressants. It is not recommended in most cases and is never suggested for children younger than 4 years old. Maintaining good hygiene is a must with any bacterial infection, always wash your hands and tell your child to wash theirs frequently. Also, a humidifier (and staying hydrated) can greatly help treat pertussis symptoms at home.


How Your Health Plan Can Help

Pertussis requires accurate and quick diagnosis in order to recover more rapidly and not suffer long-term effects. The disease can knock out several weeks of your life (whether it affects you or your child) and it is best to consult your doctor as soon as you can. Health insurance connects you with the doctor(s) of your preference efficiently and for a lower cost than visiting a clinic or urgent care center. In order to get properly diagnosed, you will need to visit your physician and have them perform tests, which can include mucus samples or complete blood counts. Also, getting a prescription antibiotic will be much more cost effective and easy with a health plan in place.

If the disease develops into something serious, a hospital visit or stay may be required, which are never cheap when paying out-of-pocket. While your health plan may not cover such care for a copay (though some do), you can at least have coverage that counts toward your deductible, or pay a small percentage of coinsurance to lessen the blow. Pertussis can require numerous types of medical attention, which gives you all the more reason to get yourself (and your family) insured – before you get infected.




1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pertussis: Outbreaks.

2. 8 January 2013. Jennifer Cruz. Natural Health Examiner. Pertussis outbreak sparks debate over effectiveness of the vaccine.

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pertussis (Whooping Cough).

4. PubMed Health. Pertussis.