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  • Predominantly in infants under age 2 years; adolescents and adults are reservoirs of infection.

  • Two-week prodromal catarrhal stage of malaise, cough, coryza, and anorexia.

  • Paroxysmal cough ending in a high-pitched inspiratory “whoop.”

  • Absolute lymphocytosis, often striking; culture confirms diagnosis.


Pertussis is an acute infection of the respiratory tract caused by B pertussis that is transmitted by respiratory droplets. The incubation period is 7–17 days. Half of all cases occur before age 2 years. Neither immunization nor disease confers lasting immunity to pertussis. Consequently, adults are an important reservoir of the disease.


The symptoms of classic pertussis last about 6 weeks and are divided into three consecutive stages. The catarrhal stage is characterized by its insidious onset, with lacrimation, sneezing, and coryza, anorexia and malaise, and a hacking night cough that becomes diurnal. The paroxysmal stage is characterized by bursts of rapid, consecutive coughs followed by a deep, high-pitched inspiration (whoop). The convalescent stage begins 4 weeks after onset of the illness with a decrease in the frequency and severity of paroxysms of cough. The diagnosis often is not considered in adults, who may not have a typical presentation. Cough persisting more than 2 weeks is suggestive. Infection may also be asymptomatic.

The WBC count is usually 15,000–20,000/mcL (15–20 × 109/L) (rarely, as high as 50,000/mcL [50 × 109/L] or more), 60–80% of which are lymphocytes. The diagnosis is established by isolating the organism from a nasopharyngeal culture on special medium (eg, Bordet-Gengou agar). PCR assays for B pertussis may be available in some clinical or health department laboratories.


Acellular pertussis vaccine is recommended for all infants, combined with diphtheria and tetanus toxoids (DtaP). Infants and susceptible adults with significant exposure should receive prophylaxis with an oral macrolide. In recognition of their importance as a reservoir of disease, vaccination of adolescents and adults against pertussis is recommended (see Table 30–7 and Two tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap) products (BOOSTRIX, GlaxoSmithKline and ADACEL, Sanofi Pasteur) are licensed by the FDA. Adolescents aged 11–18 years (preferably between 11 and 12 years of age) who have completed the DTP or DtaP vaccination series should receive a single dose of either Tdap product instead of Td (tetanus and diphtheria toxoids vaccine) for booster immunization against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. Tdap, which immunizes against the same bacteria as DtaP, is a booster immunization; Tdap contains the same amount of tetanus toxoid (T) as DtaP but reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis (hence the lower case -dap). Adults of all ages (including those older than age 64 years) should receive a single dose of Tdap. In addition, pregnant women should receive a dose of Tdap during each pregnancy regardless of prior ...

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