Pertussis, or whooping cough, is caused by infection of the respiratory tract with the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. The initial symptoms are similar to those of a common cold - a runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever and a mild, occasional cough. The cough gradually becomes severe and, after one to two weeks, the patient has spasmodic bursts of numerous, rapid coughs. The characteristic high-pitched "whoop," which is more common in children, comes from breathing in after a coughing episode. Pertussis is highly contagious and is easily spread from person-to-person. While all ages can contract pertussis, children under one year of age are at most risk for serious complications including death.