Infants and Children
Pertussis (whooping cough) can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening complications in infants and young children, especially those who are not fully vaccinated.
In infants younger than 1 year of age who get pertussis, about half are hospitalized. The younger the infant, the more likely treatment in the hospital will be needed. Of those infants who are hospitalized with pertussis about:
- 1 in 4 (23%) get pneumonia (lung infection)
- 1 or 2 in 100 (1.6%) will have convulsions (violent, uncontrolled shaking)
- Two thirds (67%) will have apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)
- 1 in 300 (0.4%) will have encephalopathy (disease of the brain)
- 1 or 2 in 100 (1.6%) will die
Teens and Adults
Teens and adults can also get complications from pertussis. They are usually less serious in this older age group, especially in those who have been vaccinated with a pertussis vaccine. Complications in teens and adults are often caused by the cough itself. For example, you may pass out or fracture a rib during violent coughing fits.
In one study, less than 5% of teens and adults with pertussis were hospitalized. Pneumonia (lung infection) was diagnosed in 2% of those patients. The most common complications in another study of adults with pertussis were:
- Weight loss (33%)
- Loss of bladder control (28%)
- Passing out (6%)
- Rib fractures from severe coughing (4%)
- Cortese MM, Bisgard KM. Pertussis. In: Wallace RB, Kohatsu N, Kast JM, ed. Maxcy-Rosenau-Last Public Health & Preventive Medicine, Fifteenth Edition. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.; 2008:111-14.
- National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System, 2000-2011. Division of Integrated Surveillance Systems and Services, National Center for Public Health Informatics, Coordinating Center for Health Information and Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta, GA 30333.
- Tanaka M, Vitek CR, Pascual FB, Bisgard KM, Tate JE, Murphy TV. Trends in pertussis among infants in the United States, 1980-1999. JAMA. 2003;290:2968-75.
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- Page last reviewed: August 28, 2013
- Page last updated: January 15, 2013
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