Parents have been hearing about whooping cough, also known as Pertussis, a lot lately. In 2017, nearly 19,000 cases of documented whooping cough were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with thousands more suspected but unreported.
Rising levels of disease are the result of waning immunity as well as failure to vaccinate young children and pregnant women.
The “whoop” in pertussis is caused when a person gasps for air following a coughing fit. It is a characteristic sound that is often frightening to both the person and the observer. The coughing fits are severe and can last up to 10 weeks! In very young children, pertussis can also cause apnea, meaning failure to breathe. The majority of people who are hospitalized with pertussis are under the age of one. Vaccination before pregnancy or during the third trimester helps protect newborns via the transfer of antibodies from mother to child. Infants begin their pertussis vaccination series beginning at age 2 months.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, April 2019