How to Recognize and Prevent Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Whooping Cough (Pertussis) starts out like the common cold, but after 1–2 weeks, severe coughing begins. The coughing is persistent and violently forces the air from the chest, resulting in a "whooping" sound when pulling air back into the lungs. The disease should be taken seriously and needs attention in both children and adults. Whooping Cough can bring about fractured ribs, pneumonia and death. It is commonly prevented with vaccinations at various ages by shots with names made from the initials of the vaccines they contain: Tdap for Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis; Td for Tetanus Diphtheria and DTaP for Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis. Health professionals may ask for an immunization history (shot record) before giving these medicines.


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    Know what to look for:

    • During the first 7-14 days:
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      • Runny nose.
      • Sneezing.
      • Low grade fever.
      • Coughing (similar to a cold).
    • After 1-2 weeks:
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      • Rapid, persistent coughing.
      • Gasping for air.
      • Vomiting.
    • In severe cases:
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      • Seizures.
      • Rib fractures.
      • Malnutrition.
      • Encephalopathy (resulting from lack of oxygen).
      • Hypoxia (inadequate oxygen supply).
      • Apnea (breathing ceases for short periods).
      • Pneumonia.
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    Know how to prevent the disease:
    • The best way to prevent whooping cough is to get vaccinated.

      • The Pertussis vaccine, contained in the Tdap, DTP, and DTaP vaccinations, can prevent this disease.
      • One dose of DTaP vaccine is recommended at each of the following ages: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, 4-6 years old. DTaP vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines.
      • The recommended age for routine vaccination with Tdap is 11 or 12 years old. Adolescents aged 11-18 should receive a single dose of Tdap instead of Td for booster immunization against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (if they have completed the recommended childhood DTP/DTaP series).


  • Health care workers in hospitals and ambulatory settings who have not previously received Tdap should get one for their own safety.
  • Adults who may come into close contact with infants (under 12 months), who have not previously received Tdap, should also get one.
  • If you are 19-64 years old and have not taken a dose of Tdap, a single dose of Tdap should replace a single dose of Td for booster immunization.


  • Whooping cough is most contagious before the coughing begins.
  • The disease is spread by coughing and sneezing.

Article Info

Categories: Respiratory Health