Indian Health Service The Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives
What is pertussis? Is it serious?
- Pertussis - whooping cough - is a disease that causes severe coughing and breathing problems, especially in infants.
- It can be prevented by vaccination.
- Teens and adults may have a milder cough that can be difficult to diagnose as whooping cough.
- In 2010, there were over 27,000 reported cases in the US, resulting in 27 deaths.
- More than half of children under 1 year of age who get pertussis will end up in the hospital.
How is pertussis spread?
- Pertussis is spread by someone with the disease when they cough or sneeze. The bacteria that cause pertussis then get into the air in tiny droplets that can spread to anyone close by.
- People who have not been vaccinated, especially newborns too young to receive the vaccine, are most likely to be infected.
- Adolescents and young adults are the most likely sources for many of the pertussis infections that happen nowadays.
How do I keep from getting pertussis?
- The best way to prevent pertussis is for children, pre-teens, and adults to get vaccinated.
- All children should be vaccinated with the DTaP vaccine at:
- 6-8 weeks
- 3-4 months
- 6 months
- 15 to 18 months
- 4-6 years.
- Children who did not get all five DTaP doses should receive the Tdap vaccine, starting at age 7.
- Pre-teens should get the Tdap vaccine between the ages of 11 and 12.
- Adults should also receive the Tdap vaccine, especially:
- Pregnant women after the 20th week of pregnancy
- Parents and other caregivers of infants and small children
- Healthcare workers
- Elders - those who are 65 and over
2012 Recommended DTaP Immunization Schedule Birth through 6 Years Old - at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months and between 4 to 6 years your child should receive DTaP Immunizations
How do you tell if someone has pertussis?
- If you or your child has a cough for more than 2 weeks, they should be seen by a healthcare provider to make sure they do not have pertussis.
- Symptoms of pertussis start like the common cold- runny nose, sneezing, cough and mild fever. After 1-2 weeks, a severe cough begins. The cough starts and stops in fits or spells. During a coughing spell, it may be hard to catch a breath. After one of these spells, the child may make a loud "whoop" sound as they try to take in a deep breath before the next coughing spell begins.
- For infants, the coughing may be so severe that they turn blue or stop breathing (apnea). For very young babies, fussiness, poor feeding and apnea spells may be the first signs of pertussis. If you think your baby has an apnea spell, seek medical attention right away or call 911.
- Older children, adolescents and adults usually have a milder illness, but still need to be treated.
- Special tests can be done to tell if someone has pertussis. These tests are done by placing a swab in a child's or adult's nose; for babies, the inside of the nose is "washed" out with salt water and the fluid is collected in a small tube.
Can pertussis be treated?
- Pertussis can be treated with antibiotics. It is important to take all of the antibiotics that are prescribed and to stay home from school or work for at least 5 days after treatment is started, even if the person is feeling better.
- People who have been exposed to someone with pertussis should also be treated, to prevent them from getting the disease, even if they have been vaccinated.
Are the DTaP and Tdap vaccines safe?
- The DTaP and Tdap vaccines are very safe and effective at preventing disease.
- Some people may have mild side-effects from the vaccine, such as redness, pain or swelling from the shot, mild fever or vomiting, but serious side-effects are very rare.
- For children serious side effects may include fever over 105o F, crying for more than 3 hours, and seizure.
- As with any medication, there is a small risk of a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine. This is estimated to occur in less than 1 person per million doses.
Are the DTaP and Tdap vaccines effective?
- While the vaccines are very effective, there are people who will not be fully protected even if they are vaccinated.
- Making sure everyone is vaccinated is important. When vaccination coverage in the community is high, it makes it more difficult for the disease to spread. This helps to protect those who may not be protected by the vaccine.