Pertussis: Frequently Asked Questions


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were a reported 32,971 cases of pertussis, or whopping cough, in the United States in 2014. A disease that was once rare, whooping cough is becoming more prevalent, and as a parent, chances are you have many questions about this life threatening illness. Here are a few questions you might have about pertussis, including what you can do to keep your child safe:

Why Is Pertussis Becoming More Common?

Originally considered a childhood illness prior to the introduction of a vaccine, pertussis is becoming increasingly common for several reasons. According to Science-Based Medicine, pertussis typically has a five-year cycle. Basically, this means that cases of whooping cough will peak every five years.

However, while it is common for pertussis cases to become more prevalent every five years, this doesn't completely account for the increasing number of reported cases since the 1980s. The dramatic rise in pertussis cases is caused by more sophisticated testing, more awareness of the symptoms and decreased immunity in previously vaccinated individuals.

The pertussis vaccine that is typically administered in several doses throughout an individual's infancy and adolescence is proving less effective than previously believed. A decreasing immunity leaves people vulnerable to contracting the illness from an infected individual.

What Are the Symptoms of Pertussis?

Because pertussis is becoming more common, it is vital that you as a parent know how to recognize the symptoms of whooping cough. Early intervention can allow your physician to treat your child more effectively, and can allow you to prevent the spread of this dangerous illness.

The early symptoms of whooping cough in children include:

  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Fever

As the illness progresses, the child will begin to exhibit more severe symptoms. This includes the telltale cough, which features a whooping sound at the end of each coughing fit. In addition to coughing uncontrollably during the fit, your child may turn blue, have trouble breathing and even vomit.

Typically, the symptoms of whooping cough are less severe in older children and adults. In some cases, an adult with whooping cough may assume they have a common cold and a particularly nasty cough.

What Should I Do If I Suspect My Child Has Whooping Cough?

If you suspect your child is suffering from whooping cough, it is important to contact a pediatrician immediately. However, if your child's symptoms are severe and they are having trouble breathing or severely vomiting, don't wait and instead, visit your local emergency room right away.

Your pediatrician will ask you several questions in order to diagnose your child with whooping cough. For example, they may ask when the cough started, about any other symptoms and if the coughing fits induce vomiting. The pediatrician may also perform a series of tests to confirm their diagnosis, including a nose culture or blood test.

How Can I Prevent My Child from Contracting Pertussis?

Educating yourself about the symptoms of whooping cough is vital. However, if you truly want to protect your child, it is imperative to speak to your pediatrician about a booster vaccine. The booster will help improve your child's immunity, which can protect them from the disease.

Your pediatrician may also recommend everyone else in your household receive a booster vaccine, as well. In addition to educating yourself about the symptoms of whooping cough and vaccinating your child, one of the simplest way to protect them is to simply stay away from anyone with the illness.

Whooping cough is a serious illness that is unfortunately becoming more prevalent. If you have any other questions about pertussis or suspect your child has been exposed, don't hesitate to contact your pediatrician. 

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