Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly contagious bacterial infection, only found in humans. Whooping cough is spread through the air, by coughing, sneezing or spending a lot of time near one another where breathing space is shared. Whooping cough, primarily affects the respiratory system (the organs that help you breathe). Many babies who get pertussis are infected by older siblings, parents, or caregivers who may not know they have the disease. Please make sure that you and your family are properly vaccinated with pertussis vaccines. A pertussis (Tdap) shot is recommended for all who are not up to date. The vaccine reduces a chance that a person will become sick with pertussis. Getting pertussis does not prevent one from getting it again in the future.
How serious is whooping cough?
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.
Symptoms of pertussis usually develop within 5 to 10 days; but can present up to 3 weeks following exposure.
Early symptoms can last for 1 to 2 weeks and usually include:
- Runny nose
- Low-grade fever (generally minimal throughout the course of the disease)
- Mild, occasional cough
- Apnea – a pause in breathing (in babies)
Because pertussis in its early stages appears to be nothing more than the common cold, it is often not suspected or diagnosed until the more severe symptoms appear.
Late symptoms– After 1 to 2 weeks and as the disease progresses, the traditional symptoms of pertussis may appear and include:
- Long series of coughs (“coughing fits”),
- Rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched “whoop”
- Vomiting during or after coughing fits
- Turning blue or difficulty catching breath during or after coughing fits
- Exhaustion after coughing fits
How is whooping cough treated?
Whooping cough is generally treated with antibiotics. It’s important to start treatment as soon as possible to help keep from spreading the disease to others. Early treatment can also make the symptoms end sooner and be less severe.
How is whooping cough prevented?
Getting vaccinated is the best way to lower the risk of getting whooping cough. It’s important to wash your hands, cover your cough, and stay home whenever you’re sick.
Are some people at higher risk from whooping cough?
People at greatest risk from whooping cough include:
- Infants under one year old.
- Pregnant women (especially in the third trimester).
- People that have a chronic respiratory illness.
Can I spread whooping cough even if I don’t have a bad cough?
Yes. You can have whooping cough without realizing it and infect others. It’s especially important for people who are going to be around babies or pregnant women to know. They should make sure they are vaccinated and stay away from high risk people when they have a runny nose or cough.
Please make sure that you and your family are all properly vaccinated with pertussis vaccines. A pertussis (Tdap) shot is recommended for all who are not up to date. The vaccine reduces the chance that a person will become sick with pertussis. Getting pertussis does not prevent one from getting it again in the future.
- DTaP pertussis vaccine is only given to children under age 7 years;
- Tdap vaccine can be given at or after 7 years of age if your child is not properly vaccinated.
- Tdap is also given to all children around 11-12 years of age per routine vaccination schedule.
- If you have children less than 7 years of age who have not been completely immunized against pertussis (particularly infants under one year) we recommend you talk to your child’s doctor about the benefits of vaccination.
- Talk to your doctor if they are older than 11 and have not yet received their routine Tdap.
- Adults should have a Tdap (Pertussis) vaccine at least once in their adult life, while pregnant women are recommended to have Tdap each pregnancy. Tdap can be given no matter when Td (tetanus and diphtheria vaccine) was last received.
- Basically, anyone with cough of more than 2 weeks duration should be evaluated for pertussis or other reasons for their cough.
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