Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

Why vaccinate adults against whooping cough (pertussis)?
  • Adults are the most common source of pertussis infection in infants.
  • Infants are at the greatest risk of serious complications, including death, from whooping cough. Approximately half of infants less than one year of age who get whooping cough are hospitalized.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that worldwide, there are an estimated 16 million cases of whooping cough and about 195,000 deaths per year. Since the 1980s, there has been an increase in the number of reported cases of whooping cough in the US.
  • Vaccination of pregnant women with Tdap is especially important to help protect infants.

 Which adults need a whooping cough vaccine?
  • All adults age 19 years and older need a one-time whooping cough booster vaccine. The whooping cough booster, called Tdap, is a combination vaccine with tetanus and diphtheria. 
  • Pregnant women need Tdap vaccine during the third trimester (between 27 and 36 weeks of every pregnancy). 
  • All adults, regardless of age, who anticipate having close contact with babies younger than 12 months (e.g., parents, grandparents, and childcare providers), ideally at least two weeks before beginning close contact with the baby.
  • All healthcare personnel in hospitals or ambulatory care settings. Priority is given to vaccination of workers in direct contact with babies younger than 12 months.
  • Once an adult gets the Tdap vaccine, they 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 coughing spells can last for weeks or even months.
  • Whooping cough spells can leave adults gasping for breath and unable to eat or 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.
  • Whooping cough 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 may wear 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 they have a mild case, so widespread vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and others.