Ryan, Kenneth J. Department of Pathology, The University of Arizona Medical Center, Tucson, Arizona.
Last reviewed:August 2020
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An acute respiratory tract infection caused by Bordetella pertussis. Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious infection of the tracheobronchial tree (system of airways) of the respiratory tract. The causative agent is the bacterium known as Bordetella pertussis (see illustration). Pertussis is commonly called whooping cough as a result of a whooping sound made by an infected person when trying to gasp for air after a bout of coughing. The disease follows a prolonged course, beginning with a runny nose and later developing into fits of violent coughing, followed by a slow period of recovery. The coughing stage can last 2 to 4 weeks, with the whooping sound being created by an exhausted individual rapidly breathing in through a narrowed glottis after a series of wrenching coughs. The classical disease occurs in children who are 1 to 5 years of age. Infants are at greatest risk, and adults with attenuated (and unrecognized) disease constitute a major source of transmission to others. See also: Bordetella; Medical bacteriology; Respiratory system disorders
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