Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Information
In 2010, several states reported an increase in cases of Pertussis (whooping cough), and there was a state-wide epidemic in California, where the disease is currently still at relatively increased levels. This page includes detailed information about the causes and symptoms of pertussis, as well as information about available vaccinations.
Pertussis is a contagious respiratory illness that usually spreads from person to person via coughing or sneezing. It is caused when a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis attaches to the cilia that line part of the upper respiratory system. These bacteria release toxins that damage the cilia and cause inflammation. Pertussis is one of the most commonly occurring vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States.
Usually, symptoms will develop within 7-10 days of the date of exposure, but occasionally the symptoms do not appear for as long as 6 weeks.
Early symptoms, which can last for one or two weeks, usually include:
- Runny nose
- Low-grade fever
- Mild cough
- Apnea (a pause in breathing, in infants)
As the disease progresses, the traditional symptoms appear; these include:
- Fits of many, rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched "whoop"
The coughing fits may persist for up to 10 weeks, and possibly longer. In China, pertussis is known as the "100 day cough."
Between the coughing fits, the individual appears fairly healthy. The fits normally become more common and more severe as the illness progresses, and are often more likely to occur at night. If the individual has been vaccinated, the illness can be less severe and the typical "whoop" can be absent.
Recovery is often slow. Even months after recovery, the coughing fits can return with other respiratory infections.
The best way to prevent pertussis among infants, children, teens, and adults is through vaccination. In the United States, it is recommended that infants and children get the DTaP vaccine, and that adolescents and adults get the Tdap booster.
The DTaP is a combination vaccine that protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. The vaccine requires fives shots. The first three shots are given at 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months; the fourth shot is given between 15 and 18 months; and the fifth shot is given between 4 and 6 years of age.
The vaccine protection fades over time, which makes a booster necessary. Before 2005, the only booster available was called Td; this contained protection against tetanus and diphtheria, and was recommended for teens and adults every 10 years. Today, there is a booster available to pre-teens, teens, and adults (called Tdap), and it contains protection against pertussis as well as tetanus and diphtheria.
The Tdap booster should be given to:
- Pre-teens (age 11 or 12)
- Teens who did not get Tdap as a pre-teen
- Adults who did not get Tdap as a pre-teen or a teen (one dose of Tdap should be taken instead of the Td booster (which is the same as the tetanus shot you are supposed to take every ten years).
- New mothers who were not previously vaccinated with Tdap should get one dose of Tdap postpartum before leaving the hospital or birthing center.
The Tdap booster is especially important for families with and caregivers of infants.
These vaccines and boosters are effective in protecting you, but no vaccine is 100% effective. If pertussis is circulating in your community, then there is a chance that a fully vaccinated person, of any age, can catch this very contagious disease. However, it is likely that the infection will be less severe for a vaccinated person.
For the most up-to-date information on pertussis, visit cdc.gov/pertussis, or call 1.800.CDC.INFO (232.4636).
Pertussis (Whooping Cough) – Causes & Transmission. (August 26, 2010). Retrieved October 12, 2010, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/about/causes-transmission.html
Pertussis (Whooping Cough) – Prevention. (August 26, 2010). Retrieved October 12, 2010, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/about/prevention.html
Pertussis (Whooping Cough) – Signs & Symptoms. (August 26, 2010). Retrieved October 12, 2010, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/about/signs-symptoms.html
Pertussis (Whooping Cough) – What You Need to Know. (September 27, 2010). Retrieved October 12, 2010, from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, http://www.cdc.gov/Features/Pertussis/