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Pertussis is a reportable disease in Oklahoma. Pertussis is a respiratory disease caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is characterized by spasms of severe coughing (paroxysms). Coughing fits are continuous making it difficult for the person to catch their breath until the end of the fit. These coughing fits are often followed by the characteristic inspiratory whoop and/or coughing so hard that the person vomits.

Illness onset is subtle, with symptoms similar to those of a minor upper respiratory infection. There are three stages of pertussis. The first is called the catarrhal stage, occurring in the first 1 to 2 weeks of illness. Symptoms people have during the catarrhal stage include a runny nose, dry cough and no fever. Frequently lasting for several weeks, the paroxysmal stage (second stage) occurs when symptoms progress to episodes of coughing fits. The disease peaks in severity after 1 or more weeks of coughing fits. The third stage is the convalescent stage where symptoms begin to slowly taper. The convalescent stage often lasts 2 to 6 weeks but in some cases it may last up to 3 months. In adults, adolescents, and vaccinated children, pertussis often can present as a chronic cough. In very young infants, the whoop is often absent and apnea is common.

Bordetella pertussis is spread from one person to another when respiratory droplets are expelled from the nose or throat of an infected person through coughing or sneezing, and then inhaled by another person. It is spread to those who have prolonged close contact with an infected person, such as household members. In most cases, school classmates, co-workers, and people in clinic waiting rooms are not considered at risk. The period of time between exposure and symptom onset range from four to 21 days. Without treatment, an infected person can spread the disease from the time he or she starts coughing up to three weeks after symptom onset. After five days of treatment an appropriate antibiotic, an infected person cannot spread the disease.

Cases of pertussis reported to the Oklahoma State Department of Health are investigated to identify exposed household, close, and direct face-to-face contacts as well as those with direct contact with nasal or throat secretions to recommend a preventive course of antibiotics in order to prevent the development of pertussis in contacts.


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