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Whooping cough is a serious illness caused by Bordetella pertussis bacteria. You might also hear whooping cough called “pertussis.”
When this germ gets into the lungs or breathing tubes, it can cause infection. People with this illness cough a lot. Between coughs, they make a “whoop” sound as they gasp for air.
Whooping cough spreads easily from person to person through the air. The germs live in the mouth and nose of an infected person. Their cough or sneeze can spread the germs to other people.
A person with whooping cough might have coughs hard enough to cause vomiting, broken ribs, or rupture blood vessels in the eye. The cough can last for weeks or months. The illness can be deadly.
Whooping cough is most dangerous for babies. More than half of babies younger than 1 with whooping cough need to go to the hospital. Babies can die from whooping cough. Or, they can have serious health problems such as seizures or brain damage.
Anyone can become sick from whooping cough. In recent years, more infants have had whooping cough because fewer adults have resistance to the disease.
You can protect yourself and others by getting the Tdap vaccine.
The Tdap vaccine protects against 3 diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. Adults can get a Tdap booster every 10 years.
If you have questions about whooping cough or the Tdap vaccine, talk to your child's doctor or nurse.
Reviewed: August 2022