Why babies need to be vaccinated against whooping cough

Baby dies of pertussis in Travis County — first death since 2003

baby screams in tub

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What is pertussis?

Pertussis (also called whooping cough) is a bacterial respiratory disease that causes severe congestion and pneumonia. It also causes a paroxysmal cough that causes a “whooping” sound at the end because the cougher can finally get some air in after the spasm is over.

Pertussis can cause serious illness in infants and children and can even be life-threatening. Coughing fits can last up to 10 weeks or more and that is why pertussis is also called the “100 day cough.”

Whooping cough makes a comeback

In 2012, 48,277 cases of pertussis were reported in the US alone. This is the most number of cases reported in the US since 1955, when 62,786 cases were reported.

The most effective way to prevent pertussis is through vaccination with the DTaP for children and infants and with Tdap for preteens, teens and adults. Because this protection fades over time, vaccinated and unvaccinated people can become infected with pertussis. The most common source of infection in infants is from an infected adult in their family or daycare.

Approximately half of the infants less than one year of age that get pertussis are hospitalized and some even die.

How to prevent pertussis

“Vaccinating pregnant women, children over 10 years of age, and older adults can help decrease the exposure to pertussis by infants and therefore decrease these hospitalizations and deaths.

Pertussis vaccines should be given at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 months and at 4-6 years of age and after age 10 years and in older adults that have not had a booster with Tdap.

You can get pertussis vaccines at your doctor’s office, local health department, or pharmacy.

Be sure your babies are protected. Get your pertussis vaccination and make sure your friends, family and daycare providers are vaccinated too.


Avatar About the Author

I enjoy children and love to work with them as they grow and mature. The relationships I form between my patients and their families make my career particularly rewarding. I practice medicine democratically, developing a partnership between physician, patient and family. Listening to my patients is my best asset.
Read more about me on my biography page.


  1. Very timely! I was just writing to an elderly friend in Fl who has been coughing for three weeks and telling her she needs to get checked. Why see a doctor for a cough?

    True story from Austin – in fact a former patient of ADC. In 2011, I worked with someone who coughed and coughed – sounded like her lungs were coming out. She coughed for weeks. I told her if she couldn’t see a doctor, at least go to the medical clinic in the local grocery store. She did and got antibiotics. Soon I started coughing – she was in the cubicle across from me still coughing. I was home in the kitchen one day after coughing for about a week and coughed so hard that I must have emptied my lungs all the way down to my toes(!) , because suddenly there was an uncontrollable huge, deep breath – and whoop! I called my ADC doctor who began antibiotics immediately and tested me for pertussis. Sure enough – I had whooping cough. My friend probably did too, and I made sure all the members of my team knew they needed to get checked for it. It is making a comeback and hitting adults very hard. They now have a new vaccine against it that protects against various strains: Tdap – I thought I didn’t need the vaccine, having had the cough, but was told the Tdap covers multiple strains. One never knows when one has been exposed to whooping cough – bus, school, taxi, work, home, shopping. I learned that most adults do not whoop, but God wanted me not to ignore it and self-medicate, so he made me whoop. As an asthmatic who was working 8-10 hours a day on the phones, I needed to be able to breathe and talk. I lost my voice for months and was never able to go back to work on the phone.