Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

What is pertussis?

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. Whooping cough is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing, which often makes it hard to breathe. Pertussis can affect people of all ages, but can be very serious, even deadly, for babies less than a year old. People with whooping cough can spread the bacteria to others when they cough, sneeze, or share the same breathing space. 

Early symptoms are typically mild, like a cold, and can include runny nose, low fever, and mild cough. Later symptoms of the disease may include “fits” of many rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched “whoop,” vomiting, and exhaustion. The coughing fits can continue for up to 10 weeks or more. In babies, the cough can be minimal or not even there. Instead, babies may have pauses in breathing known as apnea.

Information by Destination
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Where are you going?

Who is at risk?

Whooping cough is found worldwide. More whooping cough is seen in developing countries where very few people get vaccinated. Each year, it is estimated that worldwide there are about 24.1 million whooping cough cases and 160,700 deaths in children younger than 5 years old.

What can travelers do to prevent whooping cough?

Being up to date on whooping cough vaccines is the best way to protect against disease. Whooping cough vaccines are combination vaccines, that also protect against diphtheria and tetanus. These vaccines are often called DTaP and Tdap.

Graphic: people of all ages need pertussis vaccine

Babies and Children

Babies need 3 shots of DTaP to build up high levels of protection against diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough. Then, young children need 2 booster shots to maintain that protection through early childhood. CDC recommends shots at the following ages:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 15 through 18 months
  • 4 through 6 years

Preteens and Teens

Preteens should get one shot of Tdap between the ages of 11 and 12 years to boost their immunity. Teens who didn’t get Tdap as a preteen should get one shot the next time they visit their healthcare professional.

Pregnant Women

Pregnant women should get Tdap during the early part of the 3rd trimester of every pregnancy. By doing so, she helps protect her baby from whooping cough in the first few months of life. Find out more about the Tdap pregnancy recommendation.

Adults

All adults who have never received one should get a shot of Tdap. This can be given at any time, regardless of when they last got Td. This should be followed by either a Td or Tdap shot every 10 years.

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If you traveled and feel sick, particularly if you have a fever, talk to a healthcare provider and tell them about your travel. 

If you need medical care abroad, see Getting Health Care During Travel.

 

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