Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial infection. The first symptoms are similar to those of a common cold: a runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever and a mild, occasional cough. The symptoms may progress to severe coughing fits particularly at night, with “whooping” (primarily in children), and vomiting after coughing. The cough associated with pertussis usually lasts several weeks. Pertussis is very serious in young children, with pneumonia being the most common complication. Adults and adolescents usually have milder symptoms without the characteristic "whoop," but are important in the epidemiology of the disease since they often spread the disease to others.
Early childhood pertussis vaccines provide protection when children are most susceptible to serious illness. Every child should receive doses of the pertussis vaccine at 2, 4, 6, and 15 months and then a booster at 4-6 years of age.
Additionally adults and adolescents should be vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones from pertussis. In 2005, two new vaccines became available for prevention of pertussis in adolescents and adults: Boostrix® (for ages 10 and older) and Adacel™ (for ages 11 and older). Contact your regular healthcare provider for more information.