Numerous students have been ill with pertussis, also known as whooping cough, at schools in Wexford County. We wish to provide you with some important information about this illness to help you care for your family.
Pertussis can be a very serious illness, especially in infants and the very young. The disease is caused by a bacteria that is spread through sneezing and coughing. The time between exposure to the bacteria and onset of symptoms is usually between 7 to 10 days, but in rare cases it can take up to 3 weeks.
In the early stage of illness, pertussis is like a common cold. Symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, mild dry cough and low-grade fever. It is most contagious at this time. After about 1 to 2 weeks, more serious “coughing spells” develop that can last for more than a minute and result in a hard time breathing. At the end of a coughing spell, children may make a high pitched “whooping” sound as they try to catch their breath. Sometimes the coughing will cause vomiting. Coughing in this latter stage of pertussis tends to be worse at night. Between spells, children usually feels well. Older children and adults often don’t have these classic signs, such as the whoop after coughing, but may have a cough that won’t go away or coughing fits that may end in gagging or vomiting.
Please check your child and your family’s vaccinations records to ensure you are up to date on your pertussis vaccines. Vaccination can prevent illness, make it less severe, or help keep it from spreading to infants, who are most vulnerable to serious illness and even hospitalization or death from pertussis.
Vaccination may not prevent all infections so if you or your child has a cough that is not improving for two or more weeks with fits of coughing, gagging/vomiting after coughing, or whooping/gasping after coughing, it is imperative you seek medical care with testing for pertussis. If you or your child does develop these symptoms, do not return to school or work until cleared by your healthcare provider (typically after taking antibiotics for five days).
Appointments for vaccination against whooping cough may be made by calling your Medical Provider or Local Health Department. For additional information, call your Local Health Department or go to
Jennifer Morse, MD, MPH, FAAFP
District Health Department #10