PERTUSSIS

Whooping Cough

Whooping Cough (pertussis) is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella Pertussis. Many people experience a severe hacking cough followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like "whoop."

The disease typically begins with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough or fever.

Early symptoms can last for 1 to 2 weeks and include:

In the United States, the Pertussis vaccine was introduced in the 1940s. However, the number of reported pertussis cases has increased steadily since the late 1980s, with a considerable resurgence observed over the last ten years. The most notable peak was in 2012 when more than 48,000 cases and 18 deaths were reported, the most significant number of cases in the U.S. since the mid-1950s. Significant cases were also reported in 2004, 2010, and 2014, ranging from 25,000–32,000 cases.

Two vaccines protect against whooping cough:

  • DTaP is for babies and children younger than age seven years. The first dose of the DTaP vaccine is recommended at two months.

  • Tdap is for kids seven years and older, adolescents, and adults (including pregnant women).

It is important to know that many babies with pertussis won’t cough at all. Instead, it causes them to stop breathing and turn blue. Babies may have a symptom known as “apnea.” Apnea is a pause in the child’s breathing pattern. Pertussis is most dangerous for babies. About half of babies younger than one year who get the disease need care in the hospital

Whooping Cough is very serious, especially for babies and young kids. Whooping cough can cause pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, and death. Babies younger than one year of age who get Whooping Cough may be hospitalized or even die.

The Whooping Cough vaccination is recommended for all babies and children, preteens and teens, and pregnant women. Adults who have never received a dose of Tdap should also get vaccinated against pertussis. 

The Whooping Cough vaccine is the best available protection against the disease. It helps protect both the person who gets the vaccine and those around them who are most vulnerable to severe whooping cough or complications (like babies and pregnant women). We know that the protection received from any available whooping cough vaccines is 73 to 98 percent effective in the first year after receiving the vaccine, but it does wear off over time. In the same way, people that had whooping cough in the past gradually become susceptible to the disease in about five to ten years.

  • Runny nose

  • Low-grade fever (generally minimal throughout the disease)

  • A mild, occasional cough

  • Apnea – a pause in breathing (in babies)

Pertussis in its early stages appears to be nothing more than the common cold. Therefore, healthcare professionals often do not suspect or diagnose it until the more severe symptoms appear.

Later-stage symptoms include:

  • Fits of many, rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched “whoop” sound

  • Vomiting during or after coughing fits

  • Exhaustion after coughing fits