What is pertussis (whooping cough)?
Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease spread from person to person by coughing and sneezing. It is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. The infection typically starts like a cold, with a runny nose, sneezing, and mild cough. The cough lasts 1-2 weeks and then worsens, occurring in fits sometimes followed by a whooping noise, gagging or vomiting. The disease can be very serious in children less than 1 year of age where it can cause lung infections and, less often, seizures or inflammation of the brain. In rare cases, pertussis can result in death, especially in infants.
Who gets pertussis?
Pertussis can occur at any age, but vaccination reduces the risk. It most commonly occurs in very young children who have not been vaccinated. Pertussis can also occur in older children and adults, where it can cause a milder illness that may not be diagnosed. Persons with mild symptoms can still transmit the disease.
Why be concerned?
Pertussis is on the rise in the United States and here in Virginia. A total of 399 pertussis cases were reported in Virginia in 2011; more than three times the number reported in 2007. The good news is that pertussis is preventable.
How can I prevent pertussis?
The best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated. Young children need five shots against whooping cough; four shots by 18 months of age and a booster before starting kindergarten. Protection from the childhood vaccine fades over time. Adolescents and adults should receive a one-time dose of the Tdap booster. Talk to your physician to ensure you and your family are up-to-date on your whooping cough vaccines.
Where can I get the vaccine?
Vaccines that prevent pertussis are available through your physician’s office, local health departments and in many pharmacies.