How You Can Protect Your Baby From Pertussis

Protect your child from pertussis.. Peter Dazeley/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Pertussis - or whooping cough - is a vaccine preventable disease that is on the rise.  Newborns are especially susceptible to the virus which can cause severe coughing fits. In young babies, these coughing fits can be so constant that the child is unable to breathe and goes into respiratory failure. 

It is scary stuff. Pertussis is terrible no matter your age. It can last for weeks or months and really have an impact on your daily life.


But it's even more serious for babies. Over half of infants under 12 months old that are diagnosed with pertussis are hospitalized and one to two out of every 100 don't survive it. Even now. Prior to the introduction of the vaccine, pertussis was one of the leading causes of death in children in the United States. 

So What Can You Do? 

Get vaccinated. Get your children vaccinated. If you are pregnant, get the Tdap vaccine - it protects both you and your unborn child. Current recommendations are that pregnant women get the vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks of each pregnancy. 

Recommended vaccines that protect against pertussis:

  • Children should get the DTaP vaccine at 2, 4 and 6 months. Another is given between 15 and 18 months and a fifth dose is given between 4 and 6 years old - prior to starting school. 
  • A booster dose of Tdap is given between 11 and 12 years old.
  • Adults over age 19 should get one dose of Tdap during adulthood - it can be given instead of the scheduled Td (tetanus) vaccine that should be administered every 10 years. 
  • As stated above, pregnant women should get a Tdap vaccine with each pregnancy. 

In addition to making sure you are vaccinated, if you are the parent of a baby or young child, keep them away from people that are sick with a cough - especially if you know there is an outbreak of pertussis in your community (or if it's flu season - because that is dangerous for them as well).

Older children and adults with pertussis may not experience the "whooping" type cough that is characteristic of the illness or they may develop it a week or more after other cold-like symptoms start. 

If you have a cough, make sure you cover your cough the right way when you are around others to minimize the number of germs you are spreading. 

What Should You Do If You Get Pertussis?

If you think you might have pertussis or are concerned your child does, seek medical treatment early. Treatment with antibiotics may help if they are started early in the illness. Many young children need to be hospitalized and watched closely when they have pertussis. 

Some infants may not cough at all, instead they simply stop breathing for extended periods of time or experience cyanosis, which is caused by a life threatening drop in blood oxygen levels. 

It's extremely important to know what signs to watch for if your child has any type of respiratory illness so you will know if she is having difficulty breathing.

Children can go into respiratory failure very quickly and the signs are not always obvious. Identifying these signs and getting help quickly can be the difference between life and death. 


"Questions & Answers". Pertussis (Whooping Cough) 28 Aug 13. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Division of Bacterial Disease. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 27 Jun 15. 

"Whooping Cough". Health Topics 19 May 15. MedlinePlus. US National Library of Medicine. US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. 27 Jun 15.

"Pertussis Frequently Asked Questions".  Pertussis (Whooping Cough) 19 Dec 13. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Division of Bacterial Disease. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 27 Jun 15.

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