Pertussis or "whooping cough" is a highly contagious bacterial illness that can spread through close contact when people with the disease cough. It causes a severe cough that can last weeks and even months, sometimes leading to coughing fits and/or vomiting. Pertussis is easily spread from person to person by coughing or sneezing. Anyone can get pertussis, but it can be dangerous for infants, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems. 

Symptoms can appear five to 21 days after infection. Pertussis may start with cold-like symptoms (i.e., sneezing/runny nose) followed by a cough that can gradually become worse. Others may develop the cough without any cold symptoms at all. Those with pertussis are most contagious during the beginning, cold-like stage and the first two weeks after cough onset. Coughing in very young children may produce a whooping sound due to trying to catch their breaths, but this is rare in older children. There is generally no fever, and coughing may last four weeks or longer. Adults, teens, and vaccinated children often have milder symptoms that may be confused with bronchitis or asthma.  

What if my child begins to cough?

If your child begins to develop cold symptoms followed by a cough, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOHMH) recommends that you: 

The most accurate test for diagnosing pertussis is a swab placed through the nose. Antibiotics given early may minimize severe symptoms and prevent further spread of the disease.

Letter to Provide to Child's Physician

Provider Letter for Pertussis BOI.pdf

What if my child or household is high risk? 

If your child is not exhibiting symptoms but has a weakened immune system or lives in a household with a person who is pregnant, an infant younger than 12 months, or with a person who has a weakened immune system, the NYC DOHMH recommends that you reach out to your child’s physician to prescribe them antibiotics, even if your child is not coughing. 

What if my child is diagnosed with Pertussis?

If your child is diagnosed with pertussis: 

Keep your child home from school and activities, such as sports or play groups, until your child has been on antibiotics for five days or until the doctor says your child is no longer contagious. 

My child has a medical exemption for DTaP or Tdap. 

Children whose pertussis immunizations are not up-to-date or are approved for a medical exemption must stay home for 21 days after the last exposure. 

What can we do to prevent the spread of Pertussis?

The best ways to prevent the spread of pertussis are: 

Information from the Mayo Clinic 

What does Whooping Cough sound like in young children?