Skip to main content

Whooping Cough: Miserable and Potentially Fatal

Coughing Kid

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate—there is no question. Vaccinate.

California is experiencing an outbreak of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough. The state has declared the dangerous respiratory disease an epidemic, with more than 3,400 new cases and one death reported between January and June.

Whooping cough is a highly infectious bacterial disease that can be spread by coughing and sneezing.

The name "whooping" comes from the sound children can make when experiencing the violent coughing attacks associated with the disease.

Adults can find themselves plagued with respiratory problems that can last for weeks, while infants who are too young to be vaccinated are in danger of serious illness or death.

"The upsurge in pertussis is likely due to a combination of the shorter duration of immunity of the newer vaccine and declining vaccination rates," said Andrew Pavia, MD, chief, Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease. "It is something we should all be concerned about."

For infants and children, the immunization comes in the form of a combination vaccine that also protects against diphtheria and tetanus.

"The vaccine doesn't guarantee complete immunity, but it is the best defense against this miserable and potentially fatal disease," said Pavia.

The signs and symptoms of the whooping cough can be confused with the common cold at first: runny nose, sneezing, mild cough, low-grade fever. But after a week or two, the dry irritating cough evolves into coughing spells that can last more than a minute.

See your medical provider for more information on how your can protect your children and yourself from pertussis, and remember, vaccinating your child not only protects his or her health but the health of other children and adults around them.