Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacteria disease illness that can cause severe illness and cough. Pertussis is caused by a bacteria called Bordatella pertussis and can be prevented by routine vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control have reported increases in numbers of reported cases of pertussis over recent years. In 2012, over 41,000 cases were reported in the US, including 18 deaths. Because of the seriousness of this illness, it is important to understand pertussis and prevention of the disease.

Causes and Symptoms

People become ill after exposure to other people with pertussis. It is highly contagious and is passed from infected people by coughing or sneezing into the air, making it possible for others inhale the bacteria. It is very common for small children to get pertussis from a parent or caregiver who may not even realize that they are sick with this disease.

Early in the illness symptoms include runny nose, congestion, sneezing, fever and mild cough. Over the next few weeks, the cough may become severe. Patients will have fits of coughing, often very rapidly and forcefully. After these bouts of coughing, the patient will inhale deeply and create the classic “whooping” sound that gives the disease its name. Complications of pertussis include pneumonia and small babies can have pauses in breathing or times where they stop breathing (apnea). Babies can die from complications of pertussis.


You can help keep your baby safe by prevention of disease through vaccination. Infants receive the pertussis vaccine as part of routine childhood immunizations.

DTap is a vaccine that protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. For most infants, this means they are vaccinated around two months of age (with DTaP) with boosters at 4, 6 and 15-18 months, then again before school at age 4-6. Because babies are at such high risk for disease and are not fully vaccinated for the first several months of life it is very important to protect babies by keeping the people around them healthy and reducing exposure.

Tdap is the vaccine for older children and adults given to protect against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Children will get another booster as part of their tetanus shot at around 11-12 years of age (Tdap).

Immunity to pertussis decreases over time, so adults need the pertussis vaccine too. Adults need to get a tetanus booster every 10 years. They can get Tdap once, in place of their regular tetanus (Td) booster. Tdap can be given safely anytime no matter when the last Td was given. This is especially important for new parents in order to protect their baby. Most infants who get pertussis get it from a family member or close caregiver, so routine vaccination for moms is recommended late in pregnancy or in the immediate post-partum period. Pregnant mothers should be sure to ask their healthcare provider about appropriate vaccination. Ask your healthcare provider which vaccine is right for you to keep your family safe.

Information from the cdc:

From Washington State Department of Health: