Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

What is pertussis?

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a disease caused by bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. People with whooping cough can spread the bacteria to others when they cough, sneeze, or share the same breathing space. Babies can get whooping cough from older siblings, parents, or caregivers who might not know they have the disease.

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.

Whooping cough can cause serious and sometimes deadly complications in babies and young children. About half of babies younger than one year old who get the disease need care in the hospital.

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, tt 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 whopping cough?

Being up-to-date on whooping cough vaccines is the best way to protect against disease Whooping cough vaccines are combination vaccines. These vaccines 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

For children who should not get whooping cough vaccines, healthcare professionals can give DT instead of DTaP. For example, children who had a very bad reaction to DTaP can receive DT. However, children who get DT will not receive any protection against whooping cough.

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.

stethoscope

If you traveled and feel sick, particularly if you have a fever, talk to a healthcare provider and tell them about your travel. Avoid contact with other people while you are sick.

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

Traveler Information

Clinician Information