Whooping cough is a lung infection. It is called whooping cough because of the whooping sound of a child’s breathing after several coughs. It is also called pertussis.
Adults can usually recover from whooping cough, but it is a very dangerous disease for babies. Complications of whooping cough can include pneumonia, seizures, and death.
Whooping cough is caused by bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. Children can get infected by breathing in the bacteria from someone who is sneezing or coughing. When teens or adults have whooping cough, it’s usually a mild coldlike illness, so they don’t know they are carrying the bacteria and passing it on to babies and children.
The first symptoms are usually a runny nose, mild cough, and pink eyes. The cough may linger for a few weeks. The younger the person, the more severe the infection is likely to be. The cough can get worse and worse. It may cause vomiting. The face may turn red or blue. Coughing spells are usually worse at night. Babies may have spells of not breathing.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Your provider may get a sample of mucus from your child’s nose to test for bacteria.
Your child’s healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotic medicine to kill the bacteria causing the infection.
Because whooping cough is a very serious illness for babies, they may need to stay at the hospital for treatment.
Everyone in close contact with your child will be asked to take an antibiotic to keep them from getting sick or passing the bacteria to others. This includes the people your child lives with.
The pertussis vaccine protects against whooping cough and is included in children’s tetanus shots, starting at 2 months of age. Babies should get three pertussis shots during their first year of life, followed by booster shots as they get older.
Whooping cough is a very dangerous disease, especially for babies. The risk of suffering and death caused by whooping cough is far greater than the possible side effects of the shot. Complications of whooping cough can include pneumonia, seizures, and death. The risk of having problems or long-term damage from the pertussis vaccine is very low. Your child’s healthcare provider will discuss any possible side effects with you.
Teens and adults should get a new type of tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis booster called a Tdap shot, starting at age 11 or 12. Adults should get a Tdap shot once even if they are not yet due for their 10-year tetanus update. This will “boost” any protection they still have from their childhood vaccinations. Getting vaccinated with Tdap is especially important for families with new babies.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the Tdap shot for pregnant women if they have not had it before. They should get it after the 20th week of pregnancy, preferably during the last trimester of pregnancy (weeks 27 to 40). This will give the baby some protection against whooping cough before the baby gets the recommended shots.