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11 Steps to Prevent Pertussis: Whooping Cough Slideshow

Know the Symptoms of Whooping Cough

Whooping cough, also called pertussis, starts like a cold. After 1 to 2 weeks, the cold symptoms give way to intense bouts of coughing. The coughing may interfere with breathing and can cause vomiting.

Whooping cough can lead to complications that can be life-threatening, especially in babies. Symptoms are often milder in adults. Knowing the symptoms can lead to early diagnosis and treatment.

Whooping Cough Is Highly Contagious

The bacteria that cause whooping cough (shown above in green) lodge themselves in the small hair-like structures of the respiratory tract. They are spread when you cough and sneeze.

A person with whooping cough is contagious from the time the cold symptoms appear. The contagious period lasts up to 3 weeks after the coughing spells begin. The illness can last 6 to 12 weeks.

Contain Coughs

Everyone in your house should know how to help prevent spreading germs. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Make sure to wash your hands afterwards.

If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow rather than your hands.

Get Early Treatment

Antibiotics such as erythromycin are used to treat whooping cough. Early treatment is important. The disease may be milder if you take antibiotics in the first 1 to 2 weeks.

Starting early with antibiotics can also help keep you from spreading the infection to other people. Anyone who has been exposed to whooping cough should see the doctor for antibiotics to prevent infection.

Don't Spread the Bacteria

Don't return to work or school until the doctor says you should. Also, keep babies away from infected people, especially those under age 3 months, who can have serious complications if they get whooping cough. The disease can be deadly to infants, who are at highest risk.

Vaccinate Your Baby

The DTaP vaccine protects your baby against whooping cough. Keep a record of the shots in a safe place. You'll need the records for school, and in case your baby is exposed to whooping cough later on. Children should be vaccinated at these ages:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 to 18 months
  • 4 to 6 years

Boost Protection for Teens and Preteens

Immunity wears off over time. Since 1980, there has been a steady rise in whooping cough cases in children between ages 11 and 18.

The Tdap vaccine is a booster that has been approved for this age group. Protect your child by scheduling a booster shot at the age of 11 or 12.

Get Your Own Booster

Immunity also wears off in adults. See your doctor about getting a booster shot of the Tdap vaccine. It can protect both you and your family from whooping cough.

Get Vaccinated if You're Pregnant

It's important to get the Tdap vaccine each time you're pregnant. The best time to get the shot is in week 27 through week 36 of your pregnancy. This not only keeps you safe from whooping cough, but it helps your baby, too. A Tdap shot in pregnancy gives your baby some short-term protection against whooping cough early in life.

Remind Caregivers to Get Boosters

Create a protective circle around your child. Remind anyone who cares for or spends time with your child about the importance of getting a booster shot.

Ask the Doctor About Exceptions

Some people should not get the DTaP vaccine. Anyone who has had an allergic reaction to the vaccine or certain other problems of the nervous system shouldn't get it. Others with serious illness might be advised to wait. And any child who had a serious reaction to an earlier dose should not receive another one. Talk with your doctor about your child's health and reactions before proceeding.

Whooping Cough and Pertussis Slideshow: Is Your Baby Protected?

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on February 10, 2014

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Additional Resources

Whooping Cough Facts

Each year, more than 10,000 Americans get whooping cough, also called pertussis. Anyone can get it, but pertussis is especially dangerous for babies.

The coughing spells can be so severe that it becomes hard for babies to eat, drink, or breathe.

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