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Whooping Cough

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

What is it?

A disease that affects the lungs. Causes long spells of coughing that make it hard for a child to eat, drink, and breathe. It can lead to pneumonia, seizures and death.


Whooping cough usually starts with the following symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Mild cough
  • A pause in breathing in babies (apnea)

Children and babies may then begin to develop these more serious problems:

  • Coughing very hard, over and over. These coughing fits happen more at night.
  • Gasping for breath after a coughing fit. They may make a “whooping” sound. This sound is where the name “whooping cough” comes from. Babies may not cough or make this sound — they may gag, gasp, or stop breathing.
  • Difficulty breathing, eating, drinking, or sleeping.
  • Turning blue from lack of oxygen.
  • Vomiting after coughing fits.

Coughing fits can last for up to 10 weeks or more, and sometimes happen again the next time the child has a respiratory illness.

How does it spread?

Through the air by infectious droplets such as sneezing or coughing; highly contagious.


DTaP, Tdap
Babies need three shots of DTaP
Young children need two booster shots to maintain that protection through early childhood.
CDC recommends shots at the following ages:
2 months
4 months
6 months
15 through 18 months
4 through 6 years
Booster, 11-12
Booster every 10 years

Whooping cough vaccines became widely available in the 1940s. Before then, about 200,000 children got sick, and about 9,000 died from whooping cough each year in the United States. After vaccine introduction, whooping cough cases reached an all-time low in the 1970s. Today, because of the vaccine, this number has dropped to fewer than 20 per year.

Vaccines used today against diphtheria and tetanus (i.e., Td) sometimes also include protection against whooping cough or pertussis (i.e., DTaP and Tdap). Babies and children younger than 7 years old receive DTaP, while older children and adults receive Tdap and Td.