Whooping cough, sometimes called 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 may get sick.


of the 20,762 reported whooping cough cases in 2015 were in persons 11 years of age and older


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 a common cold, with a runny nose or congestion, sneezing and a mild cough or mild fever.
  • After 1-2 weeks, the cough can worsen due to thick mucus in the airways. This can result in bursts of rapid coughing. Patients may turn blue from a lack of oxygen.
  • A whoop sound may occur between coughing fits as the patient tries to take in breaths.
  • 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.


of 203 adults with whooping cough missed work an average of 10 days


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.

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


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


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 early stage of the disease and the first three 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.