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Whooping Cough - What You Need to Know

Tue, 07/20/2010
Tue, 07/20/2010
You may need a vaccination or a booster shot.

Pertussis (also known as whooping cough) is a preventable disease. Many health officials expect 2010 to be the worst year for whooping cough in more than five decades. It is important you get vaccinated or get a booster shot.

What is Whooping Cough?

Whooping cough is a very contagious disease caused by bacteria. Whooping cough can cause serious illness in infants, children and adults.

The disease starts like the common cold, with a runny nose, congestion, sneezing, coughing and maybe a mild fever. After 1–2 weeks, severe coughing starts. Infants and children with pertusis cough violently, over and over.  When the air is gone from their lungs, they inhale with a loud "whooping" sound.

Whooping cough is most severe for infants less than 1 year old. More than half who get whooping cough must be hospitalized. About 1 in 20 infants will get pneumonia (a lung infection), and about 1 in 100 will have convulsions. In rare cases, whooping cough can be deadly for infants.

How does Whooping Cough Spread?

People with whooping cough usually spread the disease by coughing or sneezing while they are close to other people, who then breathe in the whooping cough bacteria. Many infants who get whooping cough are infected by parents, brothers and sisters, or other caregivers who might not even know they have the disease.

Should I Get Vaccinated or get a Booster Shot?

Whooping cough spreads easily and can cause serious illness ? especially in infants who are too young to be fully vaccinated. The best way to prevent whooping cough is to get vaccinated. Check the table below to see if you need to get vaccinated or get a booster shot.

Most children are vaccinated for whooping cough, but protection from the vaccine fades over time. Adolescents and adults need to get a new vaccine, even if they were completely vaccinated as children. You can be revaccinated by getting a booster shot.

Whooping cough vaccines are effective, but not 100%. A person who has been vaccinated can still catch whooping cough. If you or your child develops a cold with a prolonged or severe cough, contact your doctor. 

Vaccination recommendations

In July, the California Department of Public Health widened recommendations for vaccinating against whooping cough. Officials suggested a booster shot known as Tdap for:

Population Vaccination Recommendations

Anyone 7 years or older who has never been vaccinated or who was immunized many years ago

People older than 64

Women Women of childbearing age before pregnancy, during the second or third trimesters or immediately after giving birth
Others Anyone who is in contact with infants and pregnant women

Source: The California Department of Public Health, via the San Francisco Chronicle

More Information

  • Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Vaccination
  • Pertussis Disease – Questions & Answers
  • Hear What Pertussis Sounds Like
Last updated on Tue, 07/20/2010 - 10:56