In April 2012, Washington declared a statewide epidemic of pertussis, also known as whooping cough. Over the course of the year, over 4,915 cases of whooping cough were reported – more than any year since the 1940s. Learn more about whooping cough and how you can help curb the epidemic and save lives.
What is Whooping Cough?
Whooping cough (also known as pertussis) is a bacterial infection that spreads easily by coughing and sneezing. It usually starts with mild cold symptoms, which can turn into severe coughing spells often followed by gagging, vomiting, or a “whoop” sound from trying to catch one’s breath. Pertussis can cause pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, and death, and is most severe in babies and young children. Babies often turn bluish and may not cough at all, because whooping cough makes it hard for them to feed and breathe. Adults may experience only a persistent cough.
Learn more about whooping cough from these resources:
- Watch a video about one Washington baby’s struggle against pertussis.
- Hear the characteristic “whoop” and more at Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases.
- Read Kaliah’s Story, a story about a baby in Washington who died from pertussis.
- Learn more about the epidemic and get materials from the Washington State Department of Health.
Prevent Whooping Cough: Get Vaccinated
Vaccination is the best way to prevent whooping cough. Community (or herd) immunity helps slow the spread of disease, but it only works when most people are vaccinated. At least 9 out of 10 of us must be vaccinated to keep whooping cough from spreading. It is especially important to build a “cocoon” of protection around babies – all family members and adults that care for them need to get a pertussis booster so they do not spread whooping cough to the baby.
Even if you received all your childhood shots, you need a whooping cough booster shot, called Tdap. It also protects against tetanus and diphtheria, and has been available since 2005. All adults who have not had Tdap before should get a one-time dose, and pregnant women should get one dose, ideally between 27-36 weeks gestation.
Children and Adolescents
Children need five doses of DTaP, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years. Children should also get one dose of Tdap at age 7-10 years if they did not complete the full DTaP series, or at age 11-12 as part of the recommended schedule.
Find out more about how to get immunized.