In the 1930s, around 250,000 Americans contracted whooping cough every year. And by the mid-1990s, it appeared as though the disease had been nearly eradicated. However, since 2000, cases have been rising. In fact, in 2016, more than 15,000 Amerians got it and seven people died.

In order to protect your family, you need to have a good understanding of this disease. In this blog, Gina Labovitz, MD, FAAP, of Ross Bridge Medical Center Pediatrics explains what whooping cough is and some of the myths and facts that surround it.

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection. The infection causes severe coughing spells that often end with a large “whoop” sound as the infected person is finally allowed to breathe in air. These spells of hacking coughs can last for up to a minute.

Despite the fact that whooping cough has been around a long time, there are still myths that surround this disease. Here are some myths we need to dispel and some facts you need to know.

Myth: Everyone with whooping cough makes the “whoop” sound

The signature “whoop” is present in most cases, but it doesn’t occur in all cases. Many people with whooping cough experience common cold symptoms first, including:

  • Runny nose
  • Low-grade fever
  • Mild, occasional cough
  • Nasal congestion
  • Red, watery eyes

Symptoms get worse after about a week as mucus builds up in the airways. This thick layer of mucus causes severe coughing. Intense coughing attacks may cause the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Red of blue face
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Dehydration

Head to the doctor if you or your child experiences these symptoms.

Fact: Whooping cough can be deadly for babies

Babies, especially those 3 months and under, are very susceptible to whooping cough. According to the CDC, about half of babies who get whooping cough end up in the hospital. Many parents will notice their baby struggling for air as their face turns red or even blue.

During bad spells, an infant may even stop breathing for a short amount of time. Unfortunately, 1% of babies with whooping cough will die from complications.

Myth: One vaccination gives lifetime immunity

Like many vaccines, the disease-fighting power of a whooping cough jab fades over time. The typical schedule for the pertussis vaccine for children is done in a series of five injections, and it’s often given in combination with vaccines that help prevent diphtheria and tetanus. The shots are often given on the following timeline:

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

Children, usually starting at age 11, then get the Tdap booster, which helps to further protect against the aforementioned diseases. Expecting mothers should get the Tdap vaccine during the third trimester, as it can help protect the baby in their first few months.

Fact: The whooping cough vaccine is safe

Whooping cough’s resurgence is partly due to the vaccine being less effective than previously thought. However, vaccine hesitancy has also driven the upswing in some cases. To be clear, the vaccine has absolutely no links to autism.

The vaccine is also especially effective when given to expecting mothers. In fact, 75% of children born to vaccinated moms are protected for at least their first two months. If anything, the whooping cough vaccine demonstrates the positive impact of immunizations, such as those offered by Ross Bridge Medical Center Pediatrics.

To learn more about whooping cough and immunizations, book an appointment online or over the phone with Ross Bridge Medical Center Pediatrics today.


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