The CDC defines pertussis as, "A cough illness lasting at least 2 weeks with one of the following: paroxysms of coughing, inspiratory "whoop," or post-tussive vomiting, without other apparent cause (as reported by a health professional)."*
Bordetella pertussis is the primary pathogen of whooping cough. B. pertussis has several virulence factors that allow it to overcome the immune defenses of healthy individuals. The bacteria attach to the cilia of respiratory epithelial cells, paralyze the cilia with toxins, and cause inflammation of the respiratory tract, which ultimately interferes with the clearing of pulmonary secretions. Toxins, such as adenylate cyclase toxin (ACT), pertussis toxin (PT), tracheal cytotoxin (TCT), and dermonecrotic toxin (DNT), as well as filamentous hemagglutinin adhesin (FHA), pertactin (PRN), lipopolysaccharide (LPS), and fimbriae (attachment pili) are all examples of virulence factors produced by the organism.