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Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Whooping cough (also called pertussis) is a highly contagious and serious infection that spreads easily from person to person through coughing, sneezing, and breathing The infection causes coughing spells that are so severe that it can be hard to breathe, eat, or sleep. Whooping cough can even lead to cracked ribs, pneumonia, or hospitalization.

Many babies who get whooping cough are infected by older siblings, parents, or caregivers who might not even know they have the disease.

Booster vaccines are recommended, as protection from childhood vaccination wears off, putting adolescents and adults at risk for the infection.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), worldwide, there are an estimated 16 million cases of whooping cough and about 195,000 deaths per year. Since the 1980s, there has been an increase in the number of reported cases in the US.

Before pertussis vaccines became widely available in the 1940s, as many as 200,000 children got sick with whooping cough each year in the US and about 9,000 died as a result of the infection. Currently, 10,000 to 40,000 cases are reported in the US each year, occasionally leading to death.


The classic symptom is a “whoop,” the sound of someone gasping for breath during a bad coughing spell. But you can have the infection without the “whoop.” Whooping cough can be spread before symptoms appear. It can be tough to diagnose because early symptoms may appear like the common cold or bronchitis.

Whooping cough can be passed to vulnerable infants, those who have not yet received any or all of their vaccines. For babies, complications can be severe, even deadly.


CDC recommends whooping cough vaccines for people of all ages.

Babies and children should get 5 doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTaP) for maximum protection—one dose at 2, 4, and 6 months, one at 15-18 months, and another at 4-6 years. A booster dose of tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap) is recommended for preteens at 11 or 12 years of age.

Teens or adults who did not get vaccinated against Tdap as a preteen should get one dose.

Pregnant women should get Tdap during the third trimester of each pregnancy to help protect mother and baby.

It is also important that caretakers and those who are around infants are up to date with whooping cough vaccination.


There are several antibiotics available to treat whooping cough, and early treatment is very important. Treatment can make the infection less serious if started early, before coughing fits begin. Antibiotics also may shorten the amount of time someone is contagious, which can help prevent spreading the disease to other people. Whooping cough can sometimes be very serious, requiring treatment in the hospital.

Fact: This serious infectious disease is on the rise in the US, across all age groups.

Fact: Protection against whooping cough from early childhood vaccines wears off. Adolescents and adults are at risk for infection.

Fact: Whooping cough causes coughing spells that can affect breathing, eating, and sleeping. The infection can even lead to cracked ribs and hospitalization.

Fact: Adults and adolescents can spread whooping cough to young infants who have not had all their vaccines. Babies are at greatest risk for serious complications, even death.

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