Whooping cough is a lung infection. It is called whooping cough because of the whooping sound of your child’s breathing after a coughing spell. 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 cold-like illness, so they don’t know they are carrying the bacteria and able to pass it on to babies and children.
The first symptoms are usually a runny nose, mild cough, and pink eyes. The cough may last for a few weeks. The younger your child is, the more severe the infection is likely to be. The cough can get worse and worse. It may cause vomiting. Your child’s 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. The medicine may decrease the severity of the illness, but will not cure it immediately. 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 and child care providers.
The pertussis vaccine protects against whooping cough and is included in children’s DTaP shots, starting at 2 months of age. Babies should get 3 DTaP shots during their first year of life, followed by booster shots as they get older.
Whooping cough is a very dangerous disease, and can cause death for babies. The DTaP vaccine is very safe and effective in preventing this disease. 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.
A tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis booster called a Tdap shot should be given at age 11 or 12. Adults or teens who did not get a booster shot at this age should get a Tdap shot one time, especially if the family is expecting a baby. Anyone in close contact with babies should be up-to-date with whooping cough vaccination.