The incubation period (the time between infection and the start of symptoms) for whooping cough is usually seven to 10 days, but can be as long as 21 days.
Symptoms of whooping cough typically last six to 10 weeks, but may last longer. Symptoms usually occur in three stages.
Stage 1: Stage 1 symptoms include cold-like symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, mild coughing, watery eyes, and sometimes a mild fever, lasts several days to two weeks. An infected person is most contagious during this stage.
Stage 2: During stage 2, cold-like symptoms fade, but the cough gets worse, changing from a dry, hacking cough to bursts of uncontrollable, often violent coughing. During a coughing episode, it may be temporarily impossible to take a breath because of the intensity and repetition of coughs. When finally able to breathe, the individual may take in a sudden gasp of air through airways narrowed by inflammation, and this sometimes causes a whooping noise. Vomiting and severe exhaustion often follow a coughing spell. But between coughing episodes, the infected person often appears normal. This is the most serious stage of whooping cough, usually lasting from two to four weeks or longer.
Stage 3: During stage 3, the individual may improve and gain strength, but the cough may become louder and sound worse. Coughing spells may occur sporadically for weeks to months and may flare up if a cold or other upper respiratory illness develops.
This final stage may last longer in people who have never received the whooping cough vaccine. Healthy adults who become infected with whooping cough often have a much milder form of the illness compared with children. But adults age 60 years and older are at increased risk of having severe symptoms and developing complications.
The severity of symptoms is, in part, influenced by whether a person was immunized against whooping cough and how long ago the immunization was given.
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