Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

The best way to prevent whooping cough (pertussis) is to get vaccinated.

Simple steps can be taken to reduce the risk of contraction.

Learn About Whooping Cough and How to Prevent It

Whooping Cough is a scary thought for parents and parents-to-be, but INTEGRIS Health is here to ensure you have access to the best pediatric specialists, as well as all of the information you need to keep you and your family happy and healthy. Here, you can learn about Whooping Cough, the signs and symptoms to watch for, and how to prevent it. You can also find an INTEGRIS physician or pharmacy to get a vaccination to protect yourself and your children from this potentially deadly disease.

What Is Whooping Cough?

Whooping cough, or pertussis, mainly affects infants and young children. Caused by a bacterium, it is characterized by paroxysms (intense fits or spells) of coughing that end with the characteristic whoop as air is inhaled. Whooping cough caused thousands of deaths in the 1930s and 1940s, but, with the advent of the pertussis vaccine, the rate of death has declined dramatically. Recent epidemics have occurred in areas where vaccine rates have fallen (vaccination rates for whooping cough in Oklahoma fluctuate). Even though pertussis vaccines are very effective, if pertussis is circulating in the community, there is a possibility that a fully vaccinated person can catch the disease.

Whooping Cough in Oklahoma

Oklahoma saw a 2- to 3-fold increase in cases of whooping cough from 2011 to 2012. In 2012, the whooping cough reached its highest prevalence in the state since the 1950s. Many children in Oklahoma are eligible for a free whooping cough vaccine through the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. The VFC is a federally-funded, state-operated program that provides the pertussis vaccine to eligible children. More than 750 doctor’s offices and clinics in Oklahoma currently participate in the VFC program. The Oklahoma Caring Van Program also offers immunizations free-of-charge at locations convenient to low-income families.

What Causes Whooping Cough?

Whooping cough is caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. It is spread to children from exposure to infected persons through droplets in the air. Once the bacteria are in the child's airways, swelling of the airways and mucus production begins. Usually, the disease starts like the common cold, with a runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and sometimes a mild cough or fever. Usually after one to two weeks, severe coughing begins. There have been documented outbreaks of whooping cough in Oklahoma.

Preventing Whooping Cough in Oklahoma

Though the vaccine to prevent whooping cough is routinely given to children in the first year of life in Oklahoma, cases of the disease still occur, especially in infants younger than 6 months of age.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has been a dramatic increase in the number of cases of pertussis since the 1980s, especially in teenagers (10 to 19 years of age) and babies less than 5 months of age.

The CDC recommends that children get five DTaP shots for maximum protection against pertussis. The DTaP is a combination vaccine that protects against three diseases: diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. The first three shots are given at two, four and six months of age. Between 15 and 18 months of age, the fourth shot is given, and a fifth shot when a child enters school at four to six years of age.

At regular check-ups for 11 or 12 year olds, a pre-teen should get the Tdap shot. The Tdap is a booster shot that protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. If an adult did not get a Tdap as a pre-teen or teen, then he or she should get a dose of Tdap instead of the Td booster. Adults should get a Td booster every ten years, but it can be given before the ten-year mark.

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