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Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Due to the increase in whooping cough/pertussis outbreaks, the Northpoint doctors strongly advise all parents, grandparents, and caregivers to contact their physicians and be immunized against whooping cough to protect babies from exposure.  



Mother and actress Keri Russell explain how you can protect your children and prevent the spread of this disease.

Watch video of Keri Russell talking about Pertussis

What is whooping cough?

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is less common in young children than it used to be, as the pertussis vaccine has made most children immune. Before this vaccine was developed, there were several hundred thousand cases of whooping cough each year in the United States. There are approximately 1 million cases annually in the US, primarily in adults and adolescents.

Severe coughing is a prominent symptom. This illness is caused by pertussis bacteria, which attack the lining of the breathing passages (bronchi and bronchioles), producing severe inflammation and narrowing of the airways. If not recognized correctly, the bacteria may spread to those in close contact with the infected person through her respiratory secretions.

Who is at risk?

Infants under one year of age are at the most significant risk of developing severe breathing problems and life-threatening illnesses from whooping cough. Because the child is short of breath, she inhales deeply and quickly between coughs. These breaths (particularly in older infants) frequently make a "whooping" sound—which is how this illness got its common name. The intense coughing scatters the pertussis bacteria into the air, spreading the disease to other susceptible persons.


Pertussis often acts like a common cold for a week or two. During this phase (which can last two weeks or more), the child often is short of breath and can look bluish around the mouth. She also may tear, drool, and vomit. Then the cough worsens, and the older child may start to have the characteristic "whoops"s.

Infants with pertussis become exhausted and develop complications such as susceptibility to other infections, pneumonia, and seizures. Pertussis can be fatal in some infants, but the usual course is for recovery to begin after two to four more weeks. The cough may not disappear for months and may return with subsequent respiratory infections.

When to call the doctor

Pertussis infection starts out acting like a cold. You should consider the possibility of whooping cough if the following conditions are present.

The child is a very young infant who has not been fully immunized and has had exposure to someone with a chronic cough or disease.
The child's cough becomes more severe and frequent, or her lips and fingertips become dark or blue.
She becomes exhausted after coughing episodes, eats poorly, vomits, and/or looks "sick."

When your child needs hospital care

Most infants with whooping cough who are less than six months old and slightly less than one-half of older babies with the disease are initially treated in the hospital. This more intensive care can decrease the chances of complications. These complications can include pneumonia, which occurs in slightly less than one-fourth of children under one year old who have whooping cough. (If your child is older, she is more likely to be treated only at home.)

While in the hospital, your child may need to have the thick respiratory secretions suctioned. His breathing will be monitored, and he may need to have oxygen administered. For several days, your youngster will be isolated from other patients to keep the infection from spreading to them.


Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics, usually for two weeks. These medications are most effective when given in the first stage of the illness before coughing spells begin. Although antibiotics can stop the spread of the whooping cough infection, they cannot prevent or treat the cough itself. Because cough medicines do not relieve the coughing spells, your pediatrician probably will recommend other forms of home treatment to help manage the cough.

Let your child rest in bed and use a cool-mist vaporizer to help soothe his irritated lungs and breathing passages. A vaporizer also will help loosen secretions in the respiratory tract. Ask your pediatrician for instructions on the best position for your child to help drain those secretions and improve breathing. Also, ask your doctor whether antibiotics or vaccine boosters must be given to others in your household to prevent them from developing the disease.


The best way to protect your child against pertussis is with DTaP vaccination(immunizations at two months, four months, and six months) and booster shots at twelve to eighteen months and four or five years of age). See Recommended Immunization Schedules.

Tdap also protects against pertussis. A single dose of the Tdap vaccine should be administered to children 7 through 10 years of age who were under-immunized with DTaP or who have an incomplete vaccine history.

A single dose should be given to adults with contact with infants, even those older than 65, and healthcare workers of any age. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) continues to recommend vaccination of adolescents, including pregnant adolescents. Pregnant women should also receive the vaccine.

Last Updated: 11/21/2015

Source:  HealthyChildren.org/whoopingcough  

The information on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for your pediatrician's medical care and advice. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

U.S. Pertussis Outbreaks

Recommended Pertussis Control Measures from Indiana Department of Health (PDF)

When to Call Your Pediatrician

Contact your doctor if cold-like symptoms are followed by symptoms that could indicate the presence of whooping cough. These include a cough that worsens, becoming much more violent and frequent, and a darkening of the fingertips and lips during the cough. Your child may vomit at the end of a coughing spasm. He may also be extremely tired from the severe coughing and may have difficulty eating and drinking.

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