Medically Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on May 14, 2021

Spot the Symptoms

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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.

Know When You're Contagious

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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.

Contain Coughs

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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.

Get Early Treatment

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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.   

Don't Spread the Bacteria

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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.

Vaccinate Your Baby

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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

Protect Teens and Preteens

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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.

Look Out for Yourself

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

Get a Booster if You're Pregnant

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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.

Keep Caregivers Healthy

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

Check With a Doctor Before You Skip the Shot

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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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