Whooping cough, which is also known as pertussis, is basically a respiratory tract infection, and it is extremely contagious. Generally, it is characterized by uneven cough followed by an acute intake of breath. Deaths due to this infection are not very common; however, it is most frequently observed in infants. This very reason makes it essential for women and anyone in close proximity with infants to be vaccinated against whooping cough. Symptoms usually develop within 5 to 10 days after being exposed, while at times it takes 3 weeks or more.

Whooping cough in adults
Whooping cough begins with cold-related symptoms and spreads from one person to another. The infection, known as pertussis, leads to spells of coughing that can turn out to be so severe that it becomes difficult to eat, breathe, and sleep. This infection that leads to whooping cough can lead to pneumonia and hospitalization. Whooping cough makes adults extremely sick. Also, adults who are carriers of this infection are at risk of infecting babies.

The initial symptoms might last for 1 to 2 weeks and include:

  • Mild cough
  • Runny nose
  • Apnea – a pause in breathing (in babies)
  • Low-grade fever (generally minimal throughout the course of the disease)

In recent years, the number of people falling victim to whooping cough has been increasing. Whooping cough can be extremely contagious even before coughing begins. Hence, the most effective way to prevent it is Tdap, which is a tetanus, diptheria, acellular pertussis or booster vaccine meant for adults.

It is recommended for adults between the ages of 19 and 64 to get a single dose of Tdap instead of their next tetanus-diptheria booster, which is advised once in 10 years. This booster is meant for adults over 65 years of age or for those who are in close contact with infants under 12 months of age.

Tdap vaccine is also meant for pregnant women, most preferably during their second or third trimester, which is after 20 weeks of pregnancy. After this, the pregnant woman should be vaccinated immediately right after her delivery, even before she is discharged from the birthing center or hospital.

Tdap vaccine is also recommended for those adults, irrespective of their age, who have or are predicted to have intimate contact with infants under 12 months of age, such as grandparents, parents, childcare providers, etc. They are advised to take the vaccine at least two weeks before initiating intimate contact with infants.

Tdap vaccine is also advised for all healthcare professionals working in ambulatory care settings or hospitals. Here, priority is given to the vaccination of healthcare providers who work in close contact with infants under 12 months of age.

The vaccine for whooping cough is extremely safe and is meant for adults. The reaction, if any, to this vaccine is mild. The most common reaction from this vaccination is soreness and minor pain at the injection site.

Because pertussis in its early stages appears to be nothing more than the common cold, it is often not suspected or diagnosed until the more severe symptoms appear.


Since 2001, Dr. Alexander Salerno has led Salerno Medical Associates in East Orange, New Jersey. Dr. Alexander Salerno focuses largely on urban communities and on delivering patient education about both medical and behavioral health issues, including alcohol addiction.