Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

Why vaccinate adults against whooping cough?

  • Adults are the most common source of pertussis infection in infants.
  • Infants are at the greatest risk of serious complications, including death, from pertussis. Approximately half of infants less than 1 year of age who get pertussis are hospitalized.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that worldwide, there are an estimated 16 million cases of pertussis and about 195,000 deaths per year. Since the 1980s, there has been an increase in the number of reported cases of pertussis in the US.
  • In adults, whooping cough can cause coughing spells that can affect breathing, eating, and sleeping.  It can lead to cracked ribs and hospitalization.
  • Vaccination of pregnant women with Tdap is especially important to help protect infants. Pregnant women should get the vaccine late in the second trimester or in the third trimester for each pregancy.

Which adults need whooping cough vaccine?

  • All adults age 19 to 64 years need a one-time whooping cough booster vaccine.
  • Adults age 65 years and older need a one-time whooping cough booster if they will have close contact with infants younger than 12 months.
  • If not already vaccinated, pregnant women should receive the booster vaccine late in the second trimester or during the third trimester, during each pregnancy.
  • The whooping cough booster is a combination vaccine with tetanus and diphtheria. The vaccine is called Tdap.
  • Once an adult gets the Tdap vaccine, he or she should get the Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster every 10 years from then on.
Did you know...
Rates of whooping cough have been increasing in adolescents and adults? Adults and adolescents can give the infection to infants, who are at a greatly increased risk of serious complications including death.

What happens when an adult gets whooping cough?

  • In adults, whooping cough usually starts like a common cold but then the coughing gets worse and can last for weeks or even months.
  • Whooping cough spells can leave adults gasping for breath and unable to sleep, and can cause cracked ribs and hospitalization.
  • A major concern is that infected adults can infect infants who have a high risk of death from whooping cough.

Why is the whooping cough vaccine important?

  • Vaccination can protect you from an illness that can cause serious discomfort and lost work time.
  • Pertussis vaccination can help keep you from making others, including infants, sick.

FAQ: I thought whooping cough was wiped out in this country?
Actually, high vaccination rates help keep diseases under control, but may not eliminate them. The immunity we get from whooping cough vaccines wears off over time, which is why we can get it again as adults. Whooping cough in adults may not be diagnosed because it may start very mild followed by a bad cough that people may think is just a “leftover” symptom from a cold. But adults can still pass the infection to others, even when it’s mild in them, so widespread vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and others.