Yes. It’s important that people of all ages receive vaccination and regular booster shots for whooping cough.
Whooping cough (pertussis) is the result of a serious bacterial infection. It’s easily transmitted from person to person through coughing or sneezing, and it can lead to serious respiratory issues.
It’s essential to prevent its transmission through vaccination.
Whooping cough is most commonly observed in babies and young kids. It causes coughing spells that make it hard for them to eat, drink, or breathe regularly. Coughing spells can sometimes last so long that babies may turn blue because they can’t catch their breath.
Adults and teens are also at risk of infection. They typically have a runny nose, low-grade fever, and a cough that’s often worse at night. The condition can persist for weeks or months.
Symptoms may vary with age, but infection almost always involves a cough. People sometimes make a “whoop” sound as they struggle to take deep breaths after coughing, which is why it’s known as “whooping cough.”
But it’s important to note that not everyone who has whooping cough makes the “whoop” sound.
The only way to know for sure if you have whooping cough is to see your healthcare provider.
Two types of vaccines are available for whooping cough. Both are proven to be effective in preventing the disease.
The vaccines contain an inactivated form of the bacterial toxin, which allows us to form antibodies and build an immunity. This means that if we’re exposed to the bacteria, we’re very unlikely to get sick.
The DTaP vaccine is recommended for children under age 7.
The Tdap vaccine is recommended for:
- children ages 7 and older
- adults, including during pregnancy
Both vaccines protect against three diseases:
Tdap contains a lower concentration of diphtheria and pertussis toxoids than DTaP. Both vaccines have similar possible side effects, which are generally mild and go away on their own.
If you’ve never got the DTap or Tdap vaccine, you should get vaccinated as soon as possible. Unvaccinated adults should receive one dose of the Tdap vaccine. This should be followed by a Tdap shot every 10 years.
Pregnant women should receive a single dose of Tdap during the third trimester of each pregnancy.
It’s vital that people ages 65 and older get vaccinated, especially if they’ve never received a dose of Tdap.
Currently, Boostrix is the only Tdap vaccine the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved for people who are age 65 and older.
However, healthcare providers may decide to offer vaccination with the Tdap vaccine that they have available.
People of all ages are at risk of getting whooping cough. Babies who are too young to be vaccinated are most at risk for severe illness. It can be life threatening.
Whooping cough symptoms aren’t generally as severe in adolescents and young adults.
But you shouldn’t wait to get a Tdap vaccine, especially if you’re in close contact with:
- babies younger than 12 months
- healthcare workers
- pregnant women
For older adults, the risk of hospitalization increases with age, and it’s highest if you’re over age 65.
A 2019 study found that whooping cough is probably underreported in older people and that people over age 60 may be at greater risk of hospitalization and death than younger adults.
Protection against whooping cough from early childhood vaccines may wear off. That puts adults and adolescents at risk for infection. That’s why it’s important to receive booster vaccinations to ensure continued immunity from infection.
Adults often have much milder symptoms of whooping cough. But it’s often the older siblings, parents, and grandparents who transmit whooping cough to babies. It can have lethal consequences.
It’s important to follow the CDC’s recommended vaccine schedule to ensure the best protection against whooping cough.
Children should receive 5 consecutive doses of the DTaP vaccine at:
- 2 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 15 to 18 months
- 4 to 6 years old
Adults who’ve never been vaccinated should receive one dose of the Tdap vaccine immediately. All adults should get a Tdap shot every 10 years.
Unfortunately, whooping cough is still very common, and the prevalence is growing in developing countries. It’s very contagious and is easily transmitted. Whooping cough is difficult to identify and treat because it can be confused with the common cold.
For these reasons, it’s critical for people of all ages to maintain immunity by getting vaccinated.
Yes. Getting sick and recovering from whooping cough doesn’t provide lifelong protection. That means you can still get whooping cough and transmit it to others, including babies.
The vaccine significantly reduces your risk of acquiring or transmitting the infection.
It’s always important to be proactive when it comes to your health and well-being. Don’t wait for a reminder from your doctor.
It’s a good idea to ask your healthcare provider if you’re up-to-date on your vaccinations at every visit.
If you don’t have a primary care doctor, Tdap and other recommended vaccines are offered by many doctors, pharmacies, health centers, health departments, and travel clinics.
You can use the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s online vaccine finder to locate a nearby provider.
The DTaP and Tdap vaccines are very safe and effective at preventing diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. But all medications and vaccines can have side effects.
Fortunately, the most common side effects of these vaccines are usually mild and go away on their own. They can include:
- soreness or swelling where the shot was given
- loss of appetite
Severe allergic reactions are rare but can be life threatening. Always consult your healthcare provider if you’re concerned you’re having a reaction.
You shouldn’t get the vaccine if you’ve had a coma or long repeated seizures within 7 days after a dose of DTaP or Tdap.
- have seizures or another nervous system problem
- have ever had Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)
- had severe pain or swelling after a dose of whooping cough vaccine.
- had an allergic reaction to the whooping cough vaccine or any severe allergies in the past
It’s important to keep a record if you’ve ever had a severe allergic reaction in the past and to tell the healthcare provider giving you the vaccine.
Keep in mind, severe reactions are rare.
The whooping cough vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent infection. Babies are at greatest risk of severe illness and death from this bacterial infection.
But a prolonged cough can have significant consequences for adolescents and adults. It may result in:
- substantial time lost from work or school
- social isolation
- sleep deprivation
The older you are, the more likely you are to be hospitalized. Asthma and tobacco use increase the severity of the infection.
Many adolescents and adults who are hospitalized with whooping cough have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Worsening of these conditions is often the reason for hospitalization.
Dr. Raj Dasgupta is a faculty member at the University of Southern California. He’s quadruple board-certified in internal medicine, pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine. He’s the assistant program director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program and the associate program director of the Sleep Medicine Fellowship. Dr. Dasgupta is an active clinical researcher and has been teaching around the world for more than 18 years. His first book is part of a series called “Medicine Morning Report: Beyond the Pearls.” Learn more on his website.