Pertussis, or “whooping cough,” is a highly contagious disease involving the respiratory tract. It is caused by a bacterium, Bordetella pertussis, which is found in the mouth, nose and throat of an infected person.
Pertussis can occur at any age. Severe illness is more common in very young children that have not been immunized. Adults with pertussis have milder symptoms. A diagnosis of pertussis should be considered for adults with persistent cough, to ensure they do not pass on the infection. Currently the main reason for susceptibility to pertussis in adolescents and adults is that immunity has waned since the last pertussis immunization was given before kindergarten.
Despite successful infant vaccination program, pertussis is not yet optimally controlled and remains endemic in many countries. Pertussis outbreaks occurred recently in several schools in Europe despite high vaccination coverage. Extending the use of pertussis vaccinations for older children, adults and adolescents should reduce the circulation of Bordetella pertussis disease in that age group and provide continuous protection against pertussis throughout life.