Mother tending to daughter coughing in bed
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Spot the Symptoms

Whooping cough, also called pertussis, starts like a cold. After 1 to 2 weeks, those symptoms give way to intense bouts of coughing. This can make it hard to breathe. It might make you throw up.

Whooping cough can lead to complications that can be life-threatening, especially in babies. It may be milder in adults. Knowing what to look for can help you get diagnosed and start treatment sooner.

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Whooping cough bacteria in cilia
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Know When You're Contagious

The bacteria that cause whooping cough (shown above in green) lodge themselves in the small hair-like structures of your airways. You spread them when you cough and sneeze.

You’re contagious from the time the cold symptoms appear. You can spread it for up to 3 weeks after the coughing spells begin. The illness usually lasts 6 to 12 weeks.

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Girl coughing into sleeve
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Contain Coughs

Everyone in your house should know how to stop the spread of germs. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Make sure to wash your hands afterward.

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

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erythromycin antibiotic tablets.
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Get Early Treatment

See the doctor as soon as you think you have whooping cough. They’ll probably give you an antibiotic. If you start the meds in the first 2 weeks, they can help you feel better sooner. It can also prevent the spread. Anyone who’s been exposed should see a doctor right away.   

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looking out window, hands on glass
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Don't Spread the Bacteria

Stay home from work or school until the doctor says you can go back. Keep babies away from infected people. Whooping cough can be deadly. Children younger than 3 months are most likely to have serious complications.

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baby being vaccinated
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Vaccinate Your Baby

The DTaP vaccine protects infants against whooping cough. Keep a record of the shots in a safe place. You'll need them for school and in case they exposed later on. They should be vaccinated at these ages:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 to 18 months
  • 4 to 6 years
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teen being vaccinated
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Protect Teens and Preteens

Immunity wears off over time. Cases are on the rise in kids between 11 and 18.

You can keep them safe with a Tdap vaccine. The booster shot is approved for this age group. Schedule it when your child is 11 or 12.

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woman being vaccinated
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Look Out for Yourself

Adults need boosters, too. See your doctor about a Tdap shot. It can protect both you and your family.

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woman getting vaccinated
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Get a Booster if You're Pregnant

Get a Tdap vaccine each time you're pregnant.Schedule the shot between weeks 27 and 36. It will keep both of you safe until your baby is ready for their own whooping cough shot at 2 months.

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Children listening to teacher at story time
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Keep Caregivers Healthy

Remind anyone who cares for or spends time with your child that they need to get a booster shot.

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Baby being examined by doctor, looking at mother
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Check With a Doctor Before You Skip the Shot

If you had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine, don’t get another one. People with certain nervous system problems should avoid it, too. If you have a serious illness, the doctor may tell you to wait. They’ll also help you decide if it’s OK for your child to get vaccinated. 

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 05/08/2019 Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 08, 2019


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American Academy of Pediatrics. The Red Book 2009: Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases.
American Family Physician
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Immunization Action Coalition

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 08, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.