About whooping cough

What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough is a highly contagious illness caused by bacteria. It mainly affects the respiratory system (the organs that help you breathe).

Are whooping cough and pertussis the same thing?


Who can get whooping cough?

People of all ages can get whooping cough.

How serious is whooping cough?

Whooping cough is very serious, especially for babies and young kids. Whooping cough can cause pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, and death.

What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

The symptoms differ depending on your age. Babies and young kids can have severe coughing spells that make it hard to eat, drink, breathe, or sleep. The cough is often followed by a “whooping” sound when breathing in. This sound is how the disease got its name. Some babies may turn blue because they don’t get enough oxygen and can’t catch their breath. Older kids and adults may have a bad cough, a runny nose, and a fever.

How soon do symptoms appear?

Symptoms usually start 5 to 21 days (average 7 to 10 days) after exposure.

How does whooping cough spread?

You can get whooping cough from breathing in the pertussis bacteria. This germ comes out of the mouth and nose when someone who has whooping cough coughs or sneezes.

How is whooping cough treated?

Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics. It’s important to start treatment as soon as possible to slow the spread of the disease.

How is whooping cough prevented?

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent whooping cough. Using good health manners also helps slow the spread of whooping cough — wash your hands, cover your cough, and stay home when you’re sick.

Are some people at higher risk from whooping cough?

Yes. Getting vaccinated against whooping cough is especially important for people who are considered high risk or who may expose someone who is high risk.

People at greatest risk from whooping cough include:

  • Infants under one year old.
  • Pregnant women (especially in their third trimester).
  • Anyone who may expose infants under one year old or pregnant women to whooping cough (for example: members of a household with infants or pregnant women, child care workers who take care of infants under one year old, childbirth educators, and health care workers who have face-to-face contact with infants under one year old or pregnant women).
How common is whooping cough in Washington?

There’s a whooping cough epidemic in our state right now, meaning more people are sick with whooping cough than usual. Typically, Washington has between 184 and 1026 cases of whooping cough each year, causing zero to two deaths each year. Since late 2011, reported cases are increasing. Find information online about the current number of cases reported so far this year and whooping cough cases reported in past years.

What if I was exposed to someone who has whooping cough?

See your health care provider as soon as possible. You may be given antibiotics that can stop you from getting the disease. Try to stay away from other people until treated (or until another diagnosis for the cough proves it’s not contagious).

What should I do if I think someone in my family has whooping cough?

If you think you or one of your family members has whooping cough, call your health care provider. Try to stay away from other people until your illness is treated (or another diagnosis for the cough proves it’s not contagious). Whooping cough is a possibility if someone has a bad cough, especially if it lasts longer than two weeks, or if the coughing occurs in “spells” followed by gagging or difficulty catching the breath.

How should employers handle employees returning to work who have had whooping cough?

Employers should talk with their Human Resources Office to understand their company policies, procedures, and labor agreements. Employers should not share individual employee health information with others.

Are there special cleaning requirements for whooping cough?

No. Whooping cough usually spreads by breathing in the pertussis bacteria. This germ comes out of the mouth and nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes. While the pertussis bacteria can live on a surface or object for several days, most people do not get whooping cough by contact with that surface or object. Surfaces or objects that are shared by many people have germs on them. For people who live and work in spaces that are shared by many people, cleaning and disinfecting can help get rid of those germs. For most households and workplaces, this level of cleaning and disinfecting is not always possible or practical. The best protection is getting vaccinated. Also, try to stay away from people who are coughing and sneezing. If you are sick, try to stay away from people until your illness is treated; cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze; and wash your hands often.