Pertussis infection in infants and children: etiology, clinical features, diagnosis, treatment and prevention

Karolina Meyer1,  Kamilė Žilinskienė1

1 Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, Academy of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Kaunas, Lithuania


Pertussis (known as „whooping cough“) – is a highly contagious respiratory tract disease caused by Bordetella pertussis which affects children and other people with risk factors. In the prevaccination era before the 1940s, thousands of infants and children were getting infected by pertussis. The incubation period of pertussis can be 1 to 3 weeks but usually is 7 to 10 days. Pertussis is also called “the cough of 100 days” and is usually diagnosed to a patient with over 2 weeks lasting paroxysmal cough, inspiratory whoop and posttussive vomiting. To confirm the diagnosis additional laboratory tests are typically performed. Apnea, pneumonia, weight loss due to an eating disorder and vomiting are the most common complications of whooping cough. If the symptoms are mild, patients can be treated at home. The antimicrobial therapy of macrolide antibiotics is usually used for pertussis treatment. The same therapy can be used for people who were in contact with pertussis infected person. The most important prevention of whooping cough is a routine immunization according to vaccination schemes and booster shots later on. Isolation for infected people is recommended until 5 days of the start of an effective antimicrobial therapy or 21 days from the onset of the symptoms for the untreated patients.

Keywords: pertussis, paroxysmal cough, inspiratory whoop, infants.