University Health Service

two women coughing into their sleeves

U-M students and other UHS patients, if you experience symptoms and would like advice, please call UHS at 734-764-8320. If you are not a U-M student or UHS patient, please contact your health care provider for advice. 


How to get immunized:

Immunization is an effective means to prevent pertussis. See Immunizations for details.


What is pertussis? 

Pertussis (whooping cough) causes violent coughing that may last for months. During coughing episodes, people may make a "whooping" sound when they try to inhale.

Most people recover from whooping cough with no problems, but it can be dangerous in young children, especially babies, and the elderly.


Cause: 

Bordetella pertussis bacteria


Transmission:

Direct contact with fluids or airborne droplets that are inhaled. 


Symptoms:  

Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Hear what it sounds like in a child and in an adult

Symptoms usually appear 7-14 days after infection. Symptoms usually last 6-10 weeks but may last longer.

Symptoms may occur in three stages, especially in young children. Others may not follow this pattern of symptoms.

In stage 1, symptoms are cold-like:

  • Sneezing, runny nose, a mild cough, watery eyes, and sometimes a mild fever
  • Symptoms last from several days to 2 weeks
  • This is when the disease is most easily transmitted

In stage 2, cold symptoms get better but coughing gets worse.

  • The cough goes from a mild, dry, hacking cough to a severe cough.
  • People may cough so long and hard that they can't breathe, and make a whooping noise when trying to inhale.
  • After a coughing fit, people may vomit and feel very tired.
  • Between coughing fits, people feel normal.
  • Symptoms are most severe in this stage, and usually last 2-4 weeks or longer.

In stage 3, symptoms continue, but people feel better and grow stronger.

  • The cough may get louder.
  • Coughing fits may happen off and on for weeks.
  • Coughing fits may flare up if people get a cold or have a similar illness.
  • This stage may last longer if people have never had the vaccine.

Diagnosis:

Diagnosis may be difficult, because people may seem healthy between coughing episodes. Health care providers can perform a variety of tests to properly diagnose.


Treatment:   

Pertussis is usually treated with antibiotics, which reduces duration of illness and transmission to others.

Adults or teens with pertussis need to take antibiotics for at least 5 days before returning to work or school to prevent transmission to others.

To help reduce coughing:

  • Create a quiet, calm and restful environment.
  • Control triggers of coughing such as smoke, dust and temperature changes.
  • Drink plenty of water and other hydrating fluids.
  • Over-the-counter medicines such as cough syrups don’t help,

Prevention:

  • Get vaccinated. Vaccination reduces risk of infection, make it less severe, and prevents transmission.See Vaccination for details.
    • For children starting at age 2 months, a series of vaccinations (called DTaP) is recommended.
    • A booster called Tdap is recommended at age 11 or 12, and for all teens and adults who never had Tdap.
  • People with close contact with someone with pertussis may be prescribed antibiotics to prevent infection.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your arm. Don't cough into your hand because that can spread germs. 
  • Avoid contact with people who have a bad cough.

For more information:

Pertussis information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention