Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a contagious bacterial respiratory infection caused by Bordetella pertussis. It is easily transmitted from person to person through coughing and sneezing. 

Pertussis has early symptoms which can be similar to those of a cold, including runny nose, a mild fever and cough. Babies usually experience breathing difficulties in addition. When the disease evolves, more severe signs appear, like prolonged coughing attacks followed by a high-pitched “whoop” sound, vomiting and extreme fatigue. Among babies, pertussis is a very serious disease which can be fatal. More than half of the babies affected by whooping cough are hospitalized and 1% die.


Pertussis occurs worldwide, but the travelers going to developing countries, where the local population doesn’t have easy access to vaccines, are at higher risk. Every year, 30 to 50 million cases of pertussis are reported over the world, including 300 000 deaths. The infants and the young children who are traveling internationally face the highest risk, especially if they are not vaccinated. However, unvaccinated adults and teenagers may be infected with pertussis as well.




Vaccination is the only effective protection against pertussis. Before traveling, you should see a doctor and make sure that your vaccination against pertussis is up to date. It is especially important that the young children traveling with you are protected against the disease. Note that in the United States, the pertussis vaccine is only available in combination with diphtheria and/or tetanus vaccines. Adults above the age of 19 years old must get a single lifetime dose of Tdap vaccine. Children under 7 years old are vaccinated with the DTaP vaccine. They must receive five doses between the ages of 2 months and 6 years old. Teenagers between 11 and 18 years old must get one booster dose of Tdap. All pregnant women should receive a dose of Tdap vaccine, preferably between 26 and 32 weeks gestation.


While traveling, you must always have good hygiene practices. Frequently wash your hands with clean water and soap, or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Never touch your face, especially your eyes, your nose and your mouth, without cleaning your hands first. When sneezing or coughing, cover your nose and mouth with a disposable tissue, never directly with your hands. Throw the tissue in a bin right after use. Avoid close contact with potentially infected persons and never share eating utensils or cups.


If you feel sick after traveling and you think that you may be infected with pertussis, you must see a doctor as soon as possible. Inform him/her of the countries you have visited. It is important that you remain isolated until complete recovery to avoid the spread of the disease.





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For the most current travel health recommendations, please call our clinic as make an appointment with one of our travel health professionals.