Pertussis (Whooping Cough) – What You Need To Know


Pertussis (whooping cough) is very contagious and can cause serious illness, especially in infants who are too young to be fully vaccinated. It is one of the most commonly occurring vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States.


The disease starts like the common cold, with runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and maybe mild cough or fever. But after a week or two, severe coughing begins, with a characteristic “whoop”. Pertussis is most severe for babies, causing hospitalizations and pneumonia.  In rare cases, pertussis can be deadly, especially in infants.


Most children are vaccinated against pertussis, but protection from the childhood vaccine fades over time. People with pertussis usually spread the disease by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the pertussis bacteria. Many infants who get pertussis are infected by parents, older siblings, or  other caregivers who might not even know they have the disease.


Public health officials in a number of states are worried about the rising numbers of cases of  pertussis in recent years, especially among teens and babies less than 6 months of age. Nationally, in 2008, there were more than 13,000 reported cases including 18 deaths. The California Department of Public Health has declared it an epidemic in California. Arizona and upstate New York are also experiencing increases in the numbers of patients with whooping cough. 


The best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated. Infants and young children are routinely vaccinated against several diseases, including pertussis. Pre-teens going to the doctor for their regular check-up should get a dose of tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine (called Tdap). The easiest thing for adults to do is to get Tdap instead of their next regular tetanus booster—that Td shot that they were supposed to get every 10 years. The dose of Tdap can be given earlier than the 10-year mark, so it’s a good idea for adults to talk to a healthcare provider about what’s best for their specific situation. Getting vaccinated with Tdap is especially important for families with, and caregivers of, new infants. Adolescents and adults of any age can now receive Tdap.


The Tdap vaccine is currently available at the Long Beach Island Health Department. For more information or to make an appointment, call 492-1212 and ask to speak with a public health nurse.


Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 



You can watch videos of personal stories of people affected by pertussis at


 You can “Hear What Pertussis Sounds Like” at