Whooping Cough is on the rise

The big bad wolf is popping up in unlikely places these days. There’s a new TV ad that targets grandparents as unwitting sources of whooping cough (pertussis) contagion designed to scare the heck out of parents of new babies.

But are grandma and grandpa the major risk factors for this disease? Most children get vaccinated against the disease, but the immunization wears off over time, and the number of cases in teens and adults has increased in the past few years. The highly contagious disease can cause such severe coughing in adults that it breaks ribs. Whooping cough can be deadly – particularly if passed to infants who are too young for immunization. So grandparents, who probably had a series of immunizations for whooping cough as children, can get a booster Tdap if they are going to be in close contact with infants, just to be sure.

Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease characterized by severe coughing. It’s a significant health threat, particularly to infants and young children, who are at a greater risk for complications. Cases of Pertussis change from year-to-year but this is not a disease that has gone away. In 2012, the last peak year, 48,277 cases of pertussis were reported were reported in the U.S., according to the CDC. . This was the largest number of reported cases since 1955. Health professionals also recognize that many cases may go undiagnosed.


According to HCMC Pediatrician Eileen Crespo, MD, “Whooping Cough is not your typical cough. It usually lasts from 6-12 weeks without treatment. It’s sometimes known as the 100 day cough. And it is so contagious that, if diagnosed, we recommend treatment for all household contacts. A common age to see pertussis disease is in 9-11 year olds who are coming due for their next Tetanus booster for 7th grade entry and we give the vaccine that contains pertussis. Making sure to get children vaccinated on time, especially middle schoolers, helps keep families and young babies healthy.

Pertussis is primarily spread by droplets coughed from the nose or throat of infected people, and although it can occur at any age, the most common age of diagnosis is ages 11-19. However, though young infants under 6 months of age only represented 10 percent of diagnoses they had the highest rate of death from pertussis.

Crespo says, “A child with classic pertussis will have severe spasms of quick, short coughs like a machine gun without breathing in between and afterward will strain to inhale, which is what produces the signature, high-pitched whooping sound.

Crespo explains that in young children, pertussis can result in hospitalization, serious long-term complications and even death, which is why vaccination is so important. “The vaccine for pertussis—usually combined with vaccines for diphtheria and tetanus—is very effective,” she says, noting that it should be administered at ages 2, 4 and 6 months, between 15 and 18 months, as well as between 4 and 6 years old. “And now, with the increased incidence of the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is actually recommending that certain groups get a pertussis booster including: new mothers, healthcare works and kids ages 11 and older.”

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