Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

Between 1990 and 2004, the annual number of reported cases of pertussis ranged from 2,165 to 10,151. In 2005 and 2006, the reported cases numbered about 2,500 each year. Every year, Canada sees one to three deaths from pertussis, usually in under-immunized infants.

What is pertussis?

Pertussis is an extremely contagious infection of the respiratory system. It’s common in Canada, and hard to get rid of. There are frequent outbreaks, including one that began in the summer of 2012 in Yukon. Pertussis usually continues to circulate in the affected community for about a year. Pertussis is most dangerous for pregnant women and babies under one year.

“Young infants can experience complications such as vomiting after a coughing spell, weight loss, breathing problems, choking spells, pneumonia, convulsions, brain damage, and in rare cases, death.” – Public Health Agency of Canada

How does it spread?

Pertussis is spread through coughing or sneezing, or by touching any surface that’s been contaminated and not properly cleaned.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Starts like the common cold: runny nose, red watery eyes, mild fever and cough.
  • Cough becomes severe. (There is often a “whooping” sound that gives the disease its popular name.)
  • Severe coughing can last anywhere from six to 12 weeks. The younger the child, the more severe the “whooping.”

Symptoms usually appear between seven to 10 days after exposure, but it could take up to 20 days for them to appear. That means an infected person is most contagious during the first two weeks, when the symptoms look like those of a common cold, and may last up to three weeks. If given antibiotics, the contagious period shortens to five days.

Treatment consists of a course of antibiotics. The person under treatment should stay at home and away from others until treatment is finished.

How can I protect myself and people around me?

The only real protection is immunization.

Pertussis immunization is not given on its own. Worldwide,  it is given together with protection against other diseases together in one immunization.

In Yukon, pertussis is a part of the combination immunization DTaP-HB-IPV-Hib, which protects infants and children from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Hepatitis B, polio and Haemophilus influenzae type B, all in one shot.  

The routine Yukon immunization schedule recommends:

  • DTaP-HB-IPV-Hib  immunization at 2, 4 and 6 months of age
  • A dose (DTaP-IPV-Hib) at 18 months
  • After the dose at 18 months, children have completed the primary series against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio and Haemophilus influenzae type B. After this they need a booster dose against pertussis when they start school and again in 10 years.
  • Booster dose (DTaP-IPV) at 4 to 6 years old
  • Booster dose (Tdap) in Grade 9
  • Booster dose (Tdap) for all adults

You need both the primary series and the booster doses to be protected. If you missed your booster dose your body cannot protect itself against pertussis. Contact your local health centre for drop-in and appointment times to be immunized.

Most children and adults have no reactions to immunization. Some people have minor reactions to the immunization. These reactions don’t interfere with day-to-day activities and go away on their own in two to three days. The most common reaction is swelling and redness with or without tenderness around the injection site. A few people develop fever (one to 18 in 100 children immunized), headaches or muscle pain. If this is the case with you or your child, you many choose to give/take a fever medication such as acetaminophen if the fever is 38.5°C or higher.

Any fever medication, such as acetaminophen, before the immunization is not recommended.  


  • DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis) is offered for infants and children as a combined vaccine with Hepatitis B, Inactivated polio vaccine, and haemophilus influenza type B.
  • Tdap vaccine immunizes against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. It is for children up to adults.
  • The Tdap vaccine is similar to DTaP. Tdap is used as a booster (to remind your immune system how to fight against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) in children who have completed their primary series.