Whooping Cough: A Serious Threat to Babies


Whooping cough, which is also called pertussis, is a serious and contagious disease that can cause babies to stop breathing. People with whooping cough usually spread the disease by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others.

“Once you are exposed to whooping cough and start coughing and sneezing, you can spread the disease to others,” stated Elizabeth Douglas, M.D., Middlesboro ARH Family Medicine. “Babies are extremely vulnerable and if they catch whooping cough, they could develop pneumonia (lung infection) which is a serious health threat.”

Whooping cough starts like the common cold, with a runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and maybe a mild cough or fever. But after one to two weeks, severe coughing can begin.

Unlike the common cold, whooping cough can become a series of coughing fits that continues for weeks.

“Whooping cough can cause violent and rapid coughing until the air is gone from the lungs and you are forced to inhale with a loud "whooping" sound,” explained Douglas. It’s important to know that many babies with whooping cough don't cough at all. Instead, the disease can cause them to stop breathing.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), you can help protect babies from whooping cough by getting your vaccine and making sure your baby is vaccinated. Often babies who get whooping cough are infected by parents, older siblings, grandparents, extended family or friends and caregivers who might not even know they have the disease. If you've been vaccinated and get pertussis, you are less likely to have a serious infection. Typically, your cough won't last as many days and coughing fits, whooping and vomiting after coughing fits won't occur as often.

The CDC states that about half of babies younger than one year old who get whooping cough, end up in the hospital, and a few even die from the disease.

There are two vaccines used in the United States to help prevent whooping cough: DTaP and Tdap. These vaccines also provide protection against tetanus and diphtheria. Children younger than seven years old get DTaP, while older children and adults get Tdap.

Three important ways you can help protect babies with vaccines: if you are pregnant, get vaccinated with the whooping cough vaccine in your third trimester; surround your baby with family members and caregivers who are up-to-date with their whooping cough vaccine and make sure your baby gets all the doses of the whooping cough vaccine according to the CDC’s recommended schedule (see chart).

“The best action you can take to protect your child from the whooping cough is to follow the CDC’s vaccine recommendations,” shared Douglas. 

The chart shows the age that whooping cough vaccines are routinely recommended in the United States.

The CDC states that anyone who is not up-to-date with their whooping cough vaccine should get vaccinated at least two weeks before coming into close contact with a baby. These two weeks give your body enough time to build up protection against whooping cough.

When you or your child develops a cold that includes a prolonged (lengthy) or severe cough, it may be whooping cough. The best way to know is to see your family physician. If you don’t have a family physician, visit www.arh.org for a physician near you. The whooping cough vaccine is available for adults only at ARH Retail Pharmacies.


Centers for Disease Control:
Whooping Cough Vaccine Recommendations

Birth through 6 years

DTaP is recommended at

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 through 18 months
  • 4 through 6 years

11 through 18 years

One dose of Tdap is recommended at 11 or 12 years old

  • Teens who didn't get Tdap as a preteen should get one dose the next time they visit their doctor

19 years and older

One dose of Tdap is recommended for adults who did not get Tdap as a preteen or teen

  • Tdap can be given no matter when you got your last tetanus shot

Source: Centers for Disease Control

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