Pertussis (Whooping Cough) and Warfarin

By: Alere Staff

Pertussis, also known as “whooping cough”, is a highly contagious respiratory illness that is caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis.1 When the bacteria cells enter your body, they attach to the tiny hair-like extensions called cilia that line your upper respiratory system. Once there, they release toxins that damage these cilia, causing your airways to swell and inflame.1

If you have new infants in your life, it is important to make sure you do not spread illnesses to them during their early stages of development.  

Pertussis is one of these illnesses and is considered most dangerous for infants because they are too young to have completed the full course of vaccinations required.2

Pertussis Versus the Common Cold

A disease only found in humans, pertussis is spread by coughing, sneezing or by being in close contact with someone who is infected. Infants are commonly exposed to pertussis by older siblings, parents or caregivers that may not even realize they are sick.1 Pertussis is hard to catch early because the beginning symptoms resemble a common cold. Lasting about one to two weeks, the early symptoms include a runny nose, mild cough and slight fever.People that are infected are considered most contagious about two weeks after the cough begins.

Just when you think a normal cold should end is when the traditional symptoms of pertussis begin to appear. The main symptom is fits of coughing that can be followed by a high-pitched “whoop” brought on from thick mucus built up in your airways.2 Other symptoms can include vomiting brought on by the coughing and exhaustion.1 If caught soon, your doctor can prescribe you antibiotics to help lessen the symptoms as well as prevent you from spreading it further. However, treatment after three weeks of illness will probably not help in easing symptoms as the bacteria will have already done damage to your body. Recovery from pertussis is long and can go on for up to 10 weeks or more. Perhaps that is why pertussis is known in China as the “100 day cough”.1

Complications from pertussis are uncommon in teens and adults.1,2 Usually complications come from the coughing fits and can include bruised or broken ribs, abdominal hernias and broken blood vessels in the skin or in the whites of your eyes. Infants are more at risk for developing serious complications including pneumonia, trouble breathing, dehydration, weight loss, seizures or brain damage.2 Since they are more at risk, infants usually must be treated in a hospital.

If you do get pertussis, the best way to manage the coughing fits is to get plenty of rest. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and eat smaller meals throughout the day to avoid vomiting after coughing. Try to keep the air of your home free of irritants like tobacco smoke or fumes to help with the coughing and prevent spreading the sickness by covering your mouth, washing your hands and even wearing a mask when around others. It is not recommended to use over-the-counter cough medicines as they have little effect on pertussis.2

Pertussis Prevention

The best way to either prevent pertussis or lessen the effects of the sickness is through vaccination. The most common vaccination associated with pertussis is called Tdap and contains protection from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. It is recommended to be given every ten years.2 Since pertussis complications can be deadly typically in infants, it is important that pregnant women and others who are around new babies become vaccinated.1

Before you get vaccinated, it is important that you advise the physician that you are on an anticoagulant like warfarin. While there are no known interactions between the vaccine and warfarin, there are some medical conditions that can interact.Also, medications that suppress your immune system, like corticosteroids or cancer chemotherapy, may decrease the effectiveness of the vaccine.3

Interested in learning more? Check out these related articles:


  1. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Division of Bacterial Diseases. Pertussis (Whooping Cough). CDC. September 8, 2015. Retrieved from the website:
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff. Diseases and Conditions: Whooping Cough. Mayo Clinic. January 15, 2015. Retrieved from the website:
  3. Diphtheria, Tetanus Toxoids, and Acellular Pertussis Vaccine. June 3, 2015. Retrieved from the website: