Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
What is whooping cough?
Whooping cough or pertussis, is an easily spread disease caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. In the past, whooping cough was common and caused a lot of deaths in children. After a whooping cough vaccine was made, the number of people with whooping cough decreased.
Why has there been so much talk about whooping cough this year?
This year a lot more people have gotten whooping cough. A whooping cough outbreak was announced in California in June 2010. There have also been more deaths from whooping cough. All the deaths have been in children less than 6 months old.
People of all ages can get whooping cough but babies are most in danger of having problems from it. The most common problem is pneumonia. Pneumonia is one of the big reasons why babies die from whooping cough. Other problems are seizures and brain damage.
Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
How does whooping cough spread
Whooping cough is spread by tiny wet drops produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. People with whooping cough can spread the disease from the time they get a runny nose until 3 weeks after their cough starts. People with whooping cough can prevent spreading the disease if they take the right antibiotics.
Older children and adults, including parents, often have mild disease. They can spread whooping cough and not know it. This is because they do not feel very sick so they do not see a doctor or get treated. People with whooping cough should get treated with antibiotics. They should avoid close contact with others, especially babies and pregnant women, until they have taken 5 days of the right antibiotics.
How can I protect myself and my family from getting sick with whooping cough?
The best way to protect yourself and your family from getting sick is to get vaccinated. Because the vaccine wears off with time, everyone needs booster shots.
- Everyone should get the whooping cough vaccine. This is especially important if you are around babies or pregnant women.
- Pregnant women should get the whooping cough vaccine (Tdap) either during pregnancy or immediately after birth. Tdap is considered safe during pregnancy.
- The best place to be vaccinated is at your own doctor's office. If you do not have a health care provider, or your provider does not have the vaccine you need, click here to find other places you can go.
- Assembly Bill 354: The New 7th - 12th Grade California Immunization Law
- The new immunization law requires all students entering into 7th - 12th grades to show proof of a pertussis (whooping cough) booster shot, known as Tdap before the start of school in Fall 2011. Children who cannot prove vaccination or exemption status will not be allowed school entry.
- Please contact your doctor now to get your child up-to-date on the pertussis booster shot, known as Tdap. Additional immunizations are recommended for your pre-teen and teen. Please talk with your doctor about getting your child up-to-date on meningococcal, varicella (chicken pox), human papillomavirus (HPV), and flu shots. If your child does not have a doctor, please call 311 or 800-300-9950 for assistance with finding a doctor or clinic.
It is important for some people who have had close contact to persons with whooping cough to get antibiotic medications. These people include:
- Young children <1 year old
- Pregnant women
- People who have close contact with pregnant women and young children (including health care workers)
If you know that you or family members have been around someone with whooping cough, contact your doctor. Close contact is defined as sharing toys, food, or utensils, face-to-face contact, direct exposure to cough, sneeze, or secretions, or sharing a confined space for over one hour.
All people should practice healthy habits. Examples include washing hands often, covering coughs and staying home when sick. Click here to learn more about healthy habits.
What are the symptoms and signs of whooping cough?
Whooping cough has 3 stages:
- In the first stage there is runny nose, sneezing, a fever, and a mild cough that gets worse over 1-2 weeks.
- During the second stage people have coughing attacks. At the end of each attack, there can be a high-pitched "whoop" sound. For an example of the sound, click here. This can be a dangerous stage for babies and young children. During coughing attacks they may turn blue and have difficulty breathing. Vomiting and tiredness can follow these cough attacks. This stage usually lasts 1-6 weeks.
- In the third stage the cough slowly disappears over 2-3 weeks. Many people will have coughing attacks with later colds or other infections.
The whooping cough vaccine is very good but not 100% effective. Its protection goes away over time. People who have had whooping cough in the past or who have had a whooping cough vaccine can still get the disease. Their symptoms are different and are usually not as bad as those described above. It is important to think about whooping cough even if you have been vaccinated or had the illness in the past.
If you think that you have whooping cough you should contact your doctor.
How is whooping cough treated?
Antibiotics are used to treat whooping cough. They are most helpful when started during the first stage of the disease. When taken early antibiotics can help with symptoms. If taken later antibiotics may not help with symptoms but can stop the spread of the disease.
Information for clinicians about treatment
Useful Pertussis Links
For the Public