Pertussis is an acute bacterial infection of the respiratory tract caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. The disease is characterised by a severe cough, lasting for two months or even longer.
Humans are the only reservoir. Healthy carriers probably do not exist, but infected adults usually have only mild symptoms, but can shed bacteria for weeks. Following infection (by inhalation of droplets), susceptible individuals develop symptoms after an incubation period of about 10 days. The typical paroxysmal cough is usually seen in young children. Babies less than six months old do not cough, but they manifest dyspnea and paroxysmal asphyxia and are the most likely to die of the disease unless they receive suitable treatment.
Affected children are also exposed to complications such as pneumonia, atelectasia, weight loss, hernia, seizures, encephalopathy (probably due to hypoxia). Antibiotics may reduce the duration of the disease, especially if administered in its early stages.