Prevent Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

health officials advise vaccination for children and adults

pertussis babyNorth GACases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, are on the rise and state and local public health officials are working together to identify and notify students and residents that have possibly been exposed.

The best protection against whooping cough is the pertussis vaccine. Babies, teens, adults, and pregnant women need to be vaccinated according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommended schedule. If you aren’t vaccinated, you aren’t protected.

For babies, protection against whooping cough can start before they are even born. During pregnancy, women should get the Tdap vaccine, a shot combining protection against whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria.  Also, other people, including grandparents, siblings and babysitters, should get their pertussis vaccine at least two weeks before coming into contact with a baby.

Babies begin their series of vaccines against whooping cough at 2 months of age with their first dose of DTaP. Like Tdap, this shot combines protection against whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria. The series is completed by getting additional doses at 4 months, 6 months, 15 through 18 months, and 4 through 6 years of age. Since the protection the DTaP vaccine provides young children decreases over time, preteens need the Tdap booster shot at 11 or 12 years old. The CDC recommends one dose of Tdap for adults who did not get Tdap as a preteen or teen.

If you or your child has been around someone with whooping cough, you may become sick with it, as well. This is especially true when you or your child has not received all recommended pertussis vaccinations. Sometimes, even if your shots are up to date, you may still get whooping cough, but the symptoms are usually milder with a shorter illness and it is less likely to spread.

Pertussis is also called whooping cough because of the “whooping” sound that comes from gasping for air after a fit of coughing, making it difficult to breathe. Coughing fits due to pertussis infection can last for up to ten weeks or more. But even worse, pertussis can cause serious and potentially life-threatening complications in infants and young children who are unvaccinated or under vaccinated. Children younger than 1 who contract pertussis are more prone to hospitalization, acquiring pneumonia, convulsions, apnea, and encephalopathy, and 1 percent will die.

Pertussis is a highly contagious disease that is spread through the air by cough. Pertussis begins with cold symptoms and cough, which becomes much worse over 1 to 2 weeks.  Symptoms usually include a long series of coughs (“coughing fits”) followed by a whooping noise. However, older children, adults and very young infants may not develop the whoop. There is generally only a slight fever. People with pertussis may have a series of coughs followed by vomiting, turning blue, or difficulty catching breath. The cough is often worse at night and cough medicines usually do not help alleviate the cough.

If you or your child comes down with any of the above symptoms including a cough, contact your County Health Department or your healthcare provider without delay.

Pertussis is generally treated with antibiotics to control the symptoms and prevent infected people from spreading the disease. If you or your child has been diagnosed with pertussis, complete the antibiotic regimen before returning to work, school or community functions to reduce the spread of the disease. People who have or may have pertussis should stay away from young children and infants until properly treated. Treatment of people who are in close contact with pertussis sufferers is also an important part of prevention.

In addition to vaccination, here are some simple basics to keep pertussis from spreading:

·    Wash your hands with soap and water

·    Cover your coughs and sneezes

·    Don’t share cups or silverware

·    Stay away from others until evaluated by a healthcare professional

If you are behind in your immunizations, call your County Health Department (click on the above LOCATIONS tab for contact informaton) or call your healthcare provider.

Further information about pertussis is available at


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