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Pertussis (Whooping Cough) - What You Need To Know

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | 5/17/2012, 11:36 p.m.

Pertussis (whooping cough) is very contagious and can cause serious illnessespecially in infants too young to be fully vaccinated. Pertussis vaccines are recommended for children, teens, and adults, including pregnant women.

Pertussis (whooping cough) is a very contagious disease caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. Among vaccine-preventable diseases, pertussis is one of the most commonly occurring ones in the United States.

In Washington, there have been 1,284 cases reported statewide through May 5, 2012, compared to 128 reported cases in 2011 during the same time period. There were 965 cases reported statewide in 2011 compared to 608 reported cases in 2010. Visit the Washington State Department of Health for the most recent information.

Pertussis Vaccine Protection

There is high pertussis vaccine coverage for children nationwide. However, protection from the childhood vaccine decreases over time. Preteens, teens and adults need to be revaccinated, even if they were completely vaccinated as children.

Also, pertussis vaccines are very effective but not 100% effective [PDF - 140KB]. If pertussis is circulating in the community, there is still a chance that a fully vaccinated person can catch this very contagious disease. When you or your child develops a cold that includes a prolonged or severe cough, it may be pertussis. The best way to know is to contact your doctor.

Pertussis Symptoms

Pertussis can cause serious illness in infants, children and adults. The disease starts like the common cold, with runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and maybe mild cough or fever. But after 1-2 weeks, severe coughing can begin.

Unlike the common cold, pertussis can become a series of coughing fits that continues for weeks. Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing, over and over, until the air is gone from the lungs and you are forced to inhale with a loud "whooping" sound. In infants, the cough can be minimal or not even there.

Pregnant? Protect Yourself & Your Baby from Whooping Cough

When the source of whooping cough was identified, mothers were responsible for 30-40% of infant infections (Bisgard, 2004 & Wendelboe, 2007). Read a story about a family affected by whooping cough.

If you have not been previously vaccinated with Tdap (the whooping cough booster shot), talk with your doctor about getting one dose of Tdap, preferably during the third trimester or late second trimester - or immediately after delivery before leaving the hospital or birthing center with your newborn. Learn more about vaccine protection for pertussis.

Healthcare Professionals:

See updated Tdap immunization recommendations for pregnant women.

Infants may have a symptom known as "apnea." Apnea is a pause in the child's breathing pattern. If your baby is having trouble breathing, take him to a hospital or doctor right away.

Disease Complications

Pertussis is most severe for babies; more than half of infants younger than 1 year of age who get the disease must be hospitalized. About 1 in 5 infants with pertussis get pneumonia (lung infection), and about 1 in 100 will have convulsions. In rare cases (1 in 100), pertussis can be deadly, especially in infants.

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