The best way to prevent pertussis (whooping cough) among babies, children, teens, and adults is to get vaccinated. Also, keep babies and other people at high risk for pertussis complications away from infected people.
In the United States, the recommended pertussis vaccine for babies and children is called DTaP. This is a combination vaccine that helps protect against three diseases: diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.
The childhood whooping cough vaccine (DTaP) protects most children for at least 5 years. Read more about a recent study looking into this [1 page].
Vaccine protection for these three diseases fades with time. Before 2005, the only booster (called Td) available contained protection against tetanus and diphtheria, and was recommended for teens and adults every 10 years. Today there is a booster (called Tdap) for preteens, teens, and adults that contains protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
Being up-to-date with pertussis vaccines is especially important for families with and caregivers of new babies.
For detailed information on pertussis vaccines, visit the Pertussis Vaccine Site.
Learn more about how pertussis vaccines can help protect the following groups of people:
If your doctor confirms that you have pertussis, your body will have a natural defense (immunity) to future infections. Some observational studies suggest that pertussis infection can provide immunity for 4 to 20 years. Since this immunity fades and does not offer lifelong protection, vaccination is still recommended.
If you or a member of your household has been diagnosed with pertussis, your doctor or local health department may recommend preventive antibiotics (medications that can help prevent diseases caused by bacteria) to other members of the household to help prevent the spread of disease. Additionally, some other people outside the household who have been exposed to a person with pertussis may be given preventive antibiotics, including
- People at risk for serious disease
- People who have routine contact with someone that is considered at high risk of serious disease
Babies younger than 1 year old are most at risk for serious complications from pertussis. Although pregnant women are not at increased risk for serious disease, those in their third trimester would be considered at increased risk since they could in turn expose their newborn to pertussis. You should discuss whether or not you need preventative antibiotics with your doctor, especially if there is a baby or pregnant woman in your household or you plan to have contact with a baby or pregnant woman.
Like many respiratory illnesses, pertussis is spread by coughing and sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the pertussis bacteria. Practicing good hygiene is always recommended to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses. To practice good hygiene you should:
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Put your used tissue in the waste basket.
- Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands, if you don’t have a tissue.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.
Wendelboe AM, Van Rie A, Salmaso S, Englund JA. Duration of immunity against pertussis after natural infection or vaccination. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2005;24(5 Suppl):S58-61.
- Page last reviewed: August 31, 2015
- Page last updated: September 8, 2015
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