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Please notify all suspected cases of pertussis to the Medical Officer of Health.
Laboratory confirmation with a pernasal pertussis swab should ideally be
attempted with all patients (unless paroxysmal coughing has been present for 3
or more weeks).
Northland Health
Incubation period
Catarrhal stage
Paroxysmal stage
Convalescent stage
Usually 7-10 days
1-2 weeks
2-4 weeks
2-4 weeks
♦ Transmission occurs by close
contact via respiratory secretions
of patient with disease.
♦ As many as 90% of non-immune
household contacts acquire the
♦ Infants and young children are
frequently infected by older
siblings or adults who may have
mild or atypical disease.
♦ Vaccine efficacy is 80-95% but
immunity begins to wear off after
3 years.
♦ Characterised by non-specific
symptoms of coryza, mild cough,
lacrimation, malaise and low
grade fever.
Patients are most infectious
during catarrhal stage.
Nasopharyngeal cultures are
positive in 70-80% of children
and 30-60% of adults if obtained
during catarrhal stage or early
paroxysmal stage.
Treatment of choice is
erythromycin at 40-50mg/kg per
day in four divided doses
(maximum 2g/day) for 14 days.
Antimicrobials given during the
catarrhal stage may ameliorate
the disease. After paroxysms
are established, however,
antimicrobials usually have no
discernible effect on the course
of the illness and are
recommended mainly to limit the
spread of the organism to others.
♦ Characterised by paroxysmal
The number of coughs per
spasm varies between 10 and
30. Characteristically there is no
inspiration during the coughing
Distinctive whoop is heard in
50% of paediatric cases and 520% of adult cases.
Infants can present with apnoea
without a cough.
Post-tussive vomiting is common
and should be considered
suggestive of pertussis.
Fever is generally absent except
in cases of bacterial
Patient is considered infectious
until 3 weeks after onset of
paroxysmal coughing or 5 days
after the start of a 14-day course
of an appropriate antibiotic.
♦ Gradual waning in intensity of
♦ Complete resolution of cough
may require several months.
♦ Natural immunity from the
infection is not life-long and may
wear off after 20 years.
There is evidence that 14 days of
erythromycin may prevent
pertussis in close contacts if given
before cough develops. Those
most at risk from pertussis are
infants aged less than one year.
See page105 of the 2002
Immunisation Handbook or contact
your local public health unit for
more details on preventing
pertussis in close contacts.
Dr Jonathan Jarman
Northland Medical Officer of Health
February 2004