Pertussis (known as whooping cough or 100-day cough) is a very highly contagious bacterial disease that is usually spread by coughing or sneezing, and its effects can last for months. Parents, other siblings, or other caregivers can spread whooping cough to babies without even knowing they have the disease. Pertussis can be fatal, especially in babies less than 1 year in age. Individuals who are not fully immunized are at greatest risk for contracting life-threatening cases of pertussis.
Pertussis usually starts with cold-like symptoms:
- Runny or stuffed-up nose
- Low-grade fever
- A mild cough
- A pause in breathing in infants (apnea)
Since the early stages of pertussis can appear to be a cold, it may not be suspected or diagnosed until the more severe symptoms start. After 1-2 weeks, severe coughing can begin. The onset of rapid coughing may be followed by a high-pitched whooping sound. Other symptoms can include vomiting and exhaustion. See your healthcare provider if you have a persistent cough. However, it's important to note that not everyone with pertussis coughs or makes the whooping sound.
Vaccination against pertussis remains the strongest prevention against the disease. The best way to protect babies and children is by immunization and by making sure everyone 10 years old and older has received a Tdap (Tetanus - diphtheria - pertussis) booster shot. To protect newborns, pregnant women are recommended to receive Tdap vaccine (whooping cough booster) in their third trimester of every pregnancy (between 27-36 weeks, at the earliest opportunity). You can help build a circle of protection, whereby all close contacts of infants (e.g., parents, siblings, grandparents, child care providers, etc.) get a Tdap booster shot. Infants can start the DTaP (Diphtheria - Tetanus - Pertussis) vaccine series as early as 6 weeks of age. Even one dose of DTaP may offer some protection against pertussis disease in infants.
In infants and children, especially those that are not fully vaccinated, pertussis can cause serious life-threatening complications such as:
- Apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)
- Complications in older children and adults are usually less serious, especially in those who have received the pertussis vaccine