Pertussis Disease (Whooping Cough)

The constantly growing danger of whooping cough or pertussis has prompted the CDC represented by Stacey Martin and Robert Schechter, Los Angeles County represented by Alvin Nelson El Amin, and New America Media represented by Sandy Close to collaborate to educate those who are unaware of the recommended steps to deal with the disease. Whooping cough has been declared an epidemic in California since 2005, but it has now grown into the largest outbreak in 50 years. Recent infant deaths, specifically her son Dylan, inspired Mariah Bianchi to show that whooping cough can be extremely fatal and can no longer be ignored. Ms. Bianchi played a critical role in the collaboration.

Pertussis, caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis, is highly contagious and can cause severe spasms of coughing that can last for several weeks or even months. The disease can affect all ages, but young infants are primarily the most vulnerable since most are too young to be vaccinated.

Whooping Cough typically appears in three different stages, each progressing throughout the time of illness. The first stage is similar to a mild cold and can last up to 1-2 weeks. The second stage is when the disease starts to attack the body. Symptoms during this second stage include whooping (breathing in after coughing out air in lungs), vomiting, fatigue, weight loss, ear infections, pneumonia, seizures, choking sensations, and sweating episodes. The third stage is when the victim starts to slowly recover from the illness. It is important to bear in mind that this stage can last for weeks or even months. Symptoms can be milder and the “whoop” can be absent for children, adolescents, and adults who have been vaccinated.  Extreme cases of pertussis can even result in bacterial pneumonia and rib fractures. Infants with pertussis may develop symptoms such as, apnea, gagging or gasping in place of coughing. Pneumonia, seizures, pulmonary hypertension, and even death are some complications they may have. Infants diagnosed with pertussis require hospitalization.

Although infants are primarily the most vulnerable to whooping cough, all ages have a chance of receiving the disease. Infants less than 6 months are too young for immunization and therefore are far more vulnerable than any other age group. Children from 6 months to 6th grade are fully protected by their immunizations, but the vaccine wears off after several years. People in their pre-teens through adulthood are again vulnerable, but the disease tends to be milder. Few people in this age group get diagnosed with whooping cough.

Since young infants have a strong chance of contracting the disease, it is best to vaccinate any family members or adults that may come in close contact with the baby. This prevention is called cocooning. Cocooning is to vaccinate all those who are likely to be in close contact with infants. You should do this more than or 2 weeks prior to contact with the infant.

After the 1940s, the number of pertussis cases reported in the United States has started to decline due to the introduction of the vaccine. Since the 1980s, however, there has been an increase in the number of cases, especially among teens (10-19) and babies less than 6 months of age. In 2008 there were more than 13,000 reported cases and 18 deaths nationwide. Pertussis epidemics aren’t uncommon since pertussis occurs in a cyclical pattern. Every few years a rise in cases appears, peaking every 3 to 5 years. This is due to the vaccine wearing off and the recirculation of bacteria.

The easiest way to prevent pertussis is getting a vaccine. The recommended vaccine in the U.S. for infants and children is called DTaP. DTaP is a very safe and effective vaccine that protects children against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends 5 doses of diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine for infants and children. Since infants have a harsher effect from the disease, it is highly recommended they get vaccinated. One dose of DTaP vaccine should be taken at each of the following ages: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years old (before school entry). DTaP can be taken the same time as other vaccines.

As protection from the vaccines start to wear off, adolescents and adults are once again vulnerable to the disease. Today there are boosters that contain tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap). This booster is recommended for all pre-teens (11-12 years old) going to the doctor for their regular check-up. Adolescents and adults that did not get Tdap during their pre-teens should receive one dose of Tdap instead of the Td booster. Some doctors might not be aware of Tdap and might offer you a dose of Td instead, but Td does not cover pertussis and only includes tetanus. You might have to speak with a specialist about receiving Tdap. Don’t be afraid to do your own research too. People who have already gotten Td can wait an interval of two years, but shorter intervals can be used. Most pregnant women who were not previously vaccinated with Tdap should receive a dose of Tdap post-partum before they leave the hospital or birthing center. It is important to note that many pharmacies such as Walgreens and Safeway offer vaccines for as low as $10 per person.

Call your doctor if you or a family member shows symptoms of whooping cough or is near anyone who possibly has whooping cough. Pertussis should be promptly treated to avoid spreading it to others and increasing the risk of the disease. If you have whooping cough you should contact your doctor, stay home, and avoid contact with others (especially young infants) until you have finished your antibiotic treatment. It is imperative to bear in mind that whooping cough should be treated as a potentially fatal disease to those around you and yourself.

For more information, please call 1-800-CDC-INFO or visit
In addition, visit or call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Hotline: 1-877-554-4625

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