You can help protect yourself and your family from respiratory diseases by staying up to date on all recommended vaccines, including vaccines to help prevent whooping cough.
William Schaffner, M.D.
Medical Director, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
The 2022-2023 respiratory season is shaping up to be particularly bad in the United States, with the highest number of influenza (flu) hospitalizations in more than a decade, while COVID-19 variants continue to circulate. However, there is another vaccine-preventable respiratory disease that also deserves attention — whooping cough (or pertussis).
The distinctive “whoop” sound of someone gasping for breath during a bad coughing spell is what gives the disease its name. Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection that spreads easily from person to person through coughing and sneezing. The infection can cause severe coughing spells that make it hard to breathe, eat, or sleep. In some cases, whooping cough can lead to cracked ribs, pneumonia, or hospitalization. It can be tough to diagnose because early symptoms may be similar to the common cold or bronchitis.
Not everyone who has the infection will have the “whooping” sound. In fact, whooping cough can be spread before symptoms appear. Whooping cough is most dangerous for infants younger than 3 months old. Many infants who get whooping cough are infected by older siblings, parents, or caregivers who might not even know they are infected.
Protecting your family
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends whooping cough vaccines for people of all ages, from infants to adults. The vaccine is given as a combination to prevent whooping cough, diphtheria, and tetanus (DTaP and Tdap vaccines).
There are three key things you can do to help protect yourself and your family from whooping cough and other infectious diseases during the respiratory season:
- Make sure everyone in the family is up to date on vaccines for whooping cough and other vaccine-preventable diseases. This includes getting an annual flu vaccine (for everyone age 6 months and older).
- Practice healthy habits. Wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, and stay at home if you are sick. These measures can also help protect against respiratory infections for which vaccines are not currently available, like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
- If you have symptoms, call a healthcare professional and ask about treatment. Antibiotics may be used to treat whooping cough, and certain antivirals are effective in treating flu and COVID-19.