The bacterium attaches to cells that line the airways and multiplies, bringing about the severe bouts of coughing and the characteristic "whooping" sound.
The coughing is often so severe that it will cause a victim to throw up afterwards, and there are even documented cases of patients suffering rib fractures, hernias and fainting.
The bacterium was first isolated in 1906 by Belgian microbiologist Jule Bordet and his bacteriologist colleague, Octave Gengou, who developed the world's first vaccine against B. pertussis.
Later vaccines combined the treatments for whooping cough with the diphtheria and tetanus vaccines, into a combined vaccine known as DPT.
Before immunisation was introduced in the UK in 1957 there were epidemics every three to four years, affecting hundreds of thousands of children, the majority under five.
Cases slumped dramatically after the vaccine was rolled out but a scare over the supposed side-effects of the vaccine in the 1970s and 1980s led to two further epidemics – each affecting around 400,000 children – after immunisation rates fell back.
Claims that the vaccine had caused permanent brain injury in some children were discredited in numerous scientific studies by the early 1990s and immunisation rates crept back up.
Children in Scotland are now offered the pertussis vaccine as part of the "five in one" vaccine at two, three and four months of age, as part of the routine childhood vaccination programme, which also protects against diphtheria, polio, Haemophilus influenzae Type B and tetanus.
However, there have been signs of a resurgence in whooping cough.
In April and May this year, pertussis was declared to be at "epidemic levels" in Washington State, in the US.
It is thought that the childhood vaccination programme has pushed susceptibility back into older age groups because immunity due to vaccine does not last as long as immunity due to infection. As a result, as the number of people who have had whooping cough in the past falls, population immunity falls and rates go up.
This may lead to teenagers and pregnant women being given booster jabs.
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