The best way to prevent pertussis (whooping cough) among babies, children, teens, pregnant women, and adults is to get vaccinated. Also, keep babies and other people at high risk for pertussis complications away from infected people.
If your doctor confirms that you have pertussis, your body will have a natural defense (immunity) to future pertussis 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, CDC still recommends pertussis vaccination.
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, they may recommend preventive antibiotics to some other people outside the household who have been exposed to a person with pertussis, including
- People at risk for serious disease, including babies under a year old
- People who have routine contact with someone that is considered at high risk of serious disease, including pregnant women in their third trimester
Babies younger than 1 year old are most at risk for serious complications from pertussis. Pregnant women are not at increased risk for serious disease. However, experts consider those in their third trimester to be at increased risk since they could expose their newborn to pertussis. You should discuss whether or not you need preventative antibiotics with your doctor. This is especially important if there is a baby or pregnant woman in your household. It is also important if you plan to have contact with a baby or pregnant woman.
Like many respiratory illnesses, pertussis spreads by coughing and sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the bacteria. CDC recommends practicing good hygiene 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 vaccinationexternal icon. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2005;24(5 Suppl):S58–61.