Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Whooping Cough: When a Cough is More Than a Cold

If you or your child has a cough that won’t go away, don’t dismiss it as the common cold.

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is at epidemic levels. Whooping cough has symptoms that start out like a cold but can escalate to pneumonia or even death.

More than 18,000 cases have been reported in the United States this year – bringing pertussis to its highest levels in 50 years.

Whooping cough is highly contagious and is often spread by sneezing or coughing when in close contact with other people. Infants, who are highly susceptible, are usually infected by their parents, siblings or caregivers.

What Does Whooping Cough Sound Like?

Whooping cough begins with a runny nose, sneezing and possibly a mild cough or fever. Within weeks, the cough becomes more severe, and a succession of coughs empties the air from your lungs so that inhale with a “whooping” sound.
Infants might not experience a cough but instead may have trouble breathing.

Why Vaccinate?

Getting vaccinated is the most important thing that you can do to protect yourself and your children from whooping cough.

A vaccination known as DTaP helps to keep whooping cough at bay and also protects against the sometimes-deadly diseases of Tetanus and Diphtheria.

Who Should Be Vaccinated?

Whooping cough can strike at any age, but it is especially dangerous for babies. Coughing can be so severe that babies have difficulty eating, drinking or breathing. Infants younger than 6 months are most at risk of dying from whooping cough.

The DTaP vaccination should be given at the following ages:
  • 2 months, 4 months and 6 months
  • Between 4 and 6 years
  • Between 11 and 12 years
Adults should receive a booster shot every 10 years. This is important for adults who are in contact with infants and children, including parents, grandparents, healthcare professionals, childcare providers, and teachers.

Pregnant women should also be vaccinated in the late second or third trimester; vaccinated moms may pass antibodies to the fetus so that their babies have some protection upon birth.

Where Can You Be Vaccinated?

Vaccinations are provided at your doctor’s office, community health clinics and at universities.

How Do You Know if You’ve Been Vaccinated?

Vaccination records are held at the medical office where you received your vaccination. To receive your records, contact the medical provider who administered the vaccine.

If you attended a university, you can also contact your school and ask if your records are still on file.

Ultimately, the responsibility for keeping immunization records rests with you, as there is no centralized database where vaccination records are stored. You may request an immunization worksheet from your physician, who will date and initial your paperwork whenever an immunization is given.

Without a record of your vaccinations, you may need to repeat some immunizations or schedule blood testing to prove immunity.


To learn more about DTaP and other vaccinations, visit the CDC online.

To find a doctor to provide a vaccination, learn about our primary care sites or find a doctor near you.

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