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Whooping cough (pertussis) is a contagious illness. It causes intense fits (paroxysms) of coughing. It mainly affects babies and young children.
Whooping cough used to be called the "100-day cough" because it can last for weeks to months. The illness often starts like the common cold, with a runny nose, sneezing, and a mild cough or fever. After 1 to 2 weeks, severe coughing starts. The cough often ends with a whooping sound as air is inhaled. During coughing spells, it is hard for babies and children to eat, drink, or breathe. These spells can last for weeks. In babies, it may cause periods of not breathing (apnea). Whooping cough is worse for children under 1 year of age. It is fatal is some cases.
The pertussis vaccine can help prevent the illness. But the vaccine is not 100% effective. And epidemics have occurred in areas where vaccine rates have fallen. If pertussis is spreading in an area, there is a chance that a person who has had the vaccine can still catch the disease. The vaccine's protection also wears off over time. Teens and adults who have not had a booster may spread the disease during an outbreak.
Symptoms start about 1 to 3 weeks after contact with the bacteria. They occur in 3 stages.
The catarrhal stage can last 1 to 2 weeks. Symptoms include:
The acute stage may last for 1 to 6 weeks, but can last up to 10 weeks. Symptoms include:
The child may also vomit with the coughing and appear to be strangling on the vomit.
The recovery stage lasts weeks to months:
Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. In babies, the cough may be very hard to hear. Infants may have a pause in breathing (apnea) instead of a cough. If you notice this, call your child's healthcare provider or take your child to the hospital right away.
The symptoms of whooping cough can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
In some cases, your child may to go to the hospital for treatment. This is for supportive care and monitoring. Sometimes, your child may need oxygen and intravenous (IV) fluids until he or she starts to recover.
Your child may also take antibiotic medicine. Antibiotics may not make your child get better faster. But they will prevent the spread of infection to others. Anyone who has been in close contact with a child with whooping cough is usually given antibiotic medicine. This is the case even if someone has had the pertussis vaccine.
Home treatment may include:
Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines.
The whooping cough vaccine is routinely given to children in the first year of life. But cases of the illness still occur, especially in babies under 6 months of age.
The CDC recommends that children get 5 DTaP shots for maximum protection against pertussis. A DTaP shot is a combination vaccine that protects against 3 diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. The first 3 shots are given at 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months of age. The fourth shot is given between 15 months and 18 months of age. The fifth shot is given at 4 to 6 years of age.
At regular checkups, 11- or 12-year-olds should get a dose of Tdap. The Tdap booster protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.
Immunity from the vaccine only lasts about 10 to 20 years. Older adults who have been in close contact with a child with whooping cough, such as a grandparent, are at extra risk and should have the Tdap vaccine. All pregnant women should have the vaccine, even if they have had the Tdap before. Talk with your healthcare provider about having the vaccine.
Call the healthcare provider if:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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