Pertussis (whooping cough) is a very contagious respiratory tract infection caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. Whooping cough is most contagious before the coughing begins. Pertussis is one of the most commonly occurring diseases that is vaccine-preventable in the United States. Protection from the childhood vaccine fades over time. Revaccinated is recommended for adolescents and adults even if you were completely vaccinated as a child.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Texas State Department of Health and Human Services recommends vaccination of all persons
The childhood vaccine is called DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussin); for adolescents and adults the vaccine is called Tdap. Both protect against whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria. Vaccination recommendations:
- Infants and children are recommended to receive 5 doses of the DtaP vaccine at 2, 4, and 6 months, at 15 through 18 months, and at 4 through 6 years. All 5 doses are needed for maximum protection.
- Adolescents are recommended to receive the Tdap vaccine at their regular check-up at age 11 or 12. If teenagers (13 through 18 years) missed the Tdap vaccine, consult your health care provider.
- Adults 19 through 64 years old are recommended to get a 1-time dose of Tdap in place of the Td booster every 10 years.
Regardless of your age, consult your health care provider. These vaccines and other health care services are available by contacting:
- Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services Clinics
- Public Clinics in the greater Houston Area (Gateway to Care):
Symptoms of the Disease
The disease begins similar to the common cold, with a runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and maybe mild cough or fever. After one to two weeks, severe coughing begins. Infants and children with the disease cough violently and rapidly, over and over, until they are forced to inhale with a loud "whooping" sound to breath.
Transmission of the Disease
Whooping cough is usually spread 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.
Reducing Your Chances of Becoming Infected
The best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated. For infants it is best to keep them away as much as possible from anyone who has cold symptoms or is coughing. Vaccine protection for pertussis can fade with time. Other measures for preventing or reducing your risk for whooping cough are to follow good hygiene practices:
- Wash your hands thoroughly and often
- Clean contaminated surfaces with soap and water or a disinfecting solution.
- Cover your cough by coughing into your upper arm or using a tissue. After using a tissue, place it in the trash and wash your hands.
- Avoid kissing or sharing a drinking glass, eating utensil, lipstick, or other such items with sick people or with others when you are sick.
When to Return to School/Work
The CDC and Texas State Department of Health Services provide the following general guidelines to determine when one can return to work after developing whooping cough:
NOTE: Individuals who have had whooping cough should stay away from school and work for as long as symptoms exist. This could be for an extended period of time. It is highly recommended that an individual seek guidance from their health care professional or the local health department to determine when it is appropriate to return to work or school. In addition:
- Children with whooping cough may need to take antibiotics for at least 5 days before going back to day care or school. If your child did not take antibiotics, wait 21 days after the start of symptoms before sending your child to school or day care.
- Adolescence or adults with whooping cough may need to take antibiotics for at least 5 days before being near young children or going to work at a school, a day care center, or a health facility.
For More Information
To learn more about whooping cough and related vaccines, please talk with a health care provider or call the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Immunization Branch at 800.252.9152 or 512.458.7284. For general information about whooping cough visit the websites of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).