WHAT IS
WHOOPING COUGH?

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious disease that affects the lungs.

coughing old woman with whooping cough

This big cough starts out small with bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. Anyone exposed to the bacteria can get sick.

~55%

of the 15,737 reported whooping cough cases in 2016 were in persons 11 years of age and older

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Whooping cough is scary because many people who spread it may not know they have it.

People displaying symptoms of whooping cough
  • Symptoms change as the disease progresses, and it looks different in children and adults.
  • Early symptoms can start out like those of a common cold, with a runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and a mild cough or mild fever.
  • After 1-2 weeks, the cough worsens due to thick mucus in the airways. This can result in bursts of rapid coughing. Patients may turn blue from a lack of oxygen.
  • Children and infants especially may appear very ill, vomit following cough fits, and appear exhausted. Infants younger than 12 months of age may not have the strength to have a whoop. In infants, cough may be minimal or absent, with the main symptom being temporary pauses in breathing.

WHAT DOES WHOOPING COUGH SOUND LIKE?

A whoop sound may occur between coughing fits as the patient tries to take in breaths. Click to listen.

Whooping Cough Sound provided by PKIDs.

61%

of 203 adults with whooping cough missed an average of 10 workdays

WHO’S AT RISK?

People of all ages can get whooping cough, but babies too young to be vaccinated are most at risk for severe illness. The disease can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening complications in the very young.

smiling mother holding baby

In infants, complications can include: hospitalization, pneumonia, seizures, brain disorders, and, in very rare cases, death.

CAN ADULTS GET WHOOPING COUGH?

Adolescents, adults, and children can become infected with whooping cough, but their symptoms may be milder than those in infants.

~34%

of infants under the age of 12 months with whooping cough needed to be hospitalized*

*Based on a clinical study where the source of the infection could be identified.

IS WHOOPING COUGH CONTAGIOUS?

The germ that causes whooping cough spreads easily through coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others.

father with whooping cough coughing near son

Persons are most infectious during the first two weeks after the cough begins.

Whooping cough is known to spread within households. Babies often catch it from siblings, parents, grandparents, and other members of their extended family.

32,971

reported cases of whooping cough in 2014; 20,762 reported cases in 2015; and 15,737 reported cases in 2016.*

*Cases reported to the CDC by state health departments.

Have there been reported cases of whooping cough recently?

See the map below for whooping cough cases and incidences per 100,000 people in 2016.*
Visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) site for the most up-to-date statistics.

Cases per 100,000

<2

2-5

5-10

10-15

>15

*Data from 2016 Provisional Pertussis Surveillance Report.