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Protecting Yourself against Whooping Cough

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes strong, uncontrollable coughing. The violent coughing often makes it hard to breathe, and so when someone with pertussis breathes deeply it may sound like "whooping" noises.

Pertussis is spread through coughing and sneezing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an infected person can infect up to 12 to 15 more people.

Pertussis can affect people of all ages, but newborns and babies are at the highest risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death. While teenagers and adults may have a cough that lasts for weeks or months, babies may not cough at all. Instead, infants may experience apnea or a pause in breathing. If your child is experiencing apnea or struggling to breathe, take him or her to a doctor immediately.

Early symptoms of pertussis can last 1 to 2 weeks and may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Mild cough
  • Low-grade fever

Vaccination is the best way to prevent getting sick with pertussis. Children are routinely vaccinated against pertussis starting at 2 months of age. It is important that all children and adults get the pertussis vaccine. This lowers the risk of infection for them and also lowers the chance of exposure for people who are not vaccinated (such as newborns or those with chronic illnesses). This is known as "herd immunity" – if enough people are vaccinated, the spread of the disease is unlikely. However, fewer than 10% of adults are up-to-date with their pertussis vaccine. Check with your doctor to see if you need a pertussis booster shot.

To learn more about the pertussis vaccination schedule, visit the Pertussis Vaccination site , from the CDC.

This information is not meant to replace a doctor's advice. Be sure to talk to your doctor about immunizations you may need.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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