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  • Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

    Pertussis can make babies, kids and adults very sick.

    Pertussis, or “whooping cough,” is caused by bacteria. It is very contagious. It causes a long-lasting, severe cough.

    Pertussis often starts with mild cold symptoms. Then it turns into severe coughing fits followed by gagging, vomiting or a “whoop” sound.

    Babies with pertussis may eat poorly, turn blue or stop breathing. Newborns are most at risk. They can develop life-threatening complications—like difficulty breathing, pneumonia or convulsions—that require hospitalization.

    Pertussis epidemics happen every few years. In 2012, Washington had an epidemic with almost 5,000 cases. Pierce County had over 700 cases.

    Vaccination is the best way to prevent pertussis. Kids and adults should get vaccinated to prevent outbreaks and protect babies.

    Resources

    Pertussis FAQs

    It is spread when an infected person talks, coughs or sneezes. Babies often get it from family members or care givers who do not know they are sick. Infected people, if left untreated, can spread it for several weeks.

    Symptoms usually begin 5-10 days after being exposed to a contagious person. Pertussis typically starts with mild cold symptoms. Then it turns into severe coughing fits followed by gagging, vomiting or a “whoop” sound. Babies may eat poorly, turn blue or stop breathing. Newborns are most at risk.

    Everyone should be concerned about pertussis. It can make kids and adults very sick. But pertussis is most common, and often most severe, in babies and toddlers. If you’re often around babies or toddlers, make sure you’re vaccinated.

    If you think you might have pertussis, call your healthcare provider. They can take a nose swab and have it tested for pertussis. Stay away from other people until you know you’re not contagious.

    A person with pertussis is contagious until they have taken an antibiotic for 5 full days. They should not return to childcare, school or work until they have taken an antibiotic for 5 full days.

    Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent pertussis.

    • Kids should be vaccinated at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 12-18 months, 4-6 years and 11 years.
    • Unvaccinated adults should be vaccinated.
    • Pregnant people should be vaccinated during each pregnancy (at 27-36 weeks gestation). Vaccine given during pregnancy protects the baby until they can be vaccinated at 2 months. This is very important because most babies who die of pertussis are only a few weeks old.
    • People who care for babies under 1 year old (like childcare providers or grandparents) should be vaccinated.

    Call your healthcare provider. Or see our kids’ immunization or adults’ immunization pages for pharmacies and other locations that give vaccinations. Some locations may offer free or low-cost vaccination.