Questions and Answers
Q: How common is pertussis?
A: Even with the success of pertussis (whooping cough) vaccines, the disease is still common in the United States. Since clinicians do not diagnose all cases, not every case is reported. In recent years between 10,000 and 40,000 cases are reported each year. Institutional outbreaks of whooping cough, such as those in a daycare center or school, are common, taking place each year in many states..
Q: Why is there more pertussis in some years than others?
A: Reported cases of pertussis vary from year to year and tend to peak every few years. The Unites States’ last peak year nationally was in 2012, when state health departments reported 48,277 cases of pertussis to CDC. Before the 2012 peak, the United States also had a peak year in 2010, when state health departments reported more than 27,000 cases. CDC does not completely understand this pattern. Therefore, it’s important that everyone is up to date with their recommended pertussis vaccines. If it weren’t for vaccines, CDC would see many more cases of pertussis.
Q: What should I do if I live in an outbreak area?
A: You can make sure you and your loved ones are up to date with recommended pertussis vaccines. There are two types of pertussis vaccines — DTaP for babies and children and Tdap for preteens, teens, and adults. Getting vaccinated with Tdap during every pregnancy is especially important for women. Also, caregivers of babies should keep them away from anyone with cough or cold symptoms.
- For Babies and Children: In the United States, DTaP is the recommended pertussis vaccine for children. This is a safe and effective combination vaccine that protects children against three diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. For maximum protection against pertussis, children need five DTaP shots. Healthcare professionals give the first three shots at 2, 4, and 6 months old. They give the fourth shot to children who are 15 through 18 months old, and a fifth shot when a child enters school, at 4 through 6 years old. If a 7 through 10 year old is not up-to-date with DTaP vaccines, healthcare professionals should give a dose of Tdap before the 11- to 12-year-old check up.
- For Preteens and Teens: Vaccine protection for pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria can decrease with time. Preteens should get a booster vaccine, called Tdap, at 11 or 12 years old. Teens and young adults who didn’t get a booster of Tdap as a preteen should get one dose during their next visit to see their healthcare professional.
- For Pregnant Women: Expectant mothers should get one dose of Tdap between 27 through 36 weeks of each pregnancy, preferably during the earlier part of this time period. By getting Tdap during pregnancy, a pregnant woman passes her pertussis antibodies to the newborn. These antibodies provide protection against pertussis in early life, before the baby starts getting DTaP vaccines at 2 months old. Tdap will also help protect the mother, making her less likely to spread pertussis to her baby.
- For Adults: Adults 19 years or older who didn’t get Tdap as a preteen or teen should get a single dose of Tdap. Adults get Tdap in place of one of their regular tetanus boosters — the Td shot that CDC recommends for adults every 10 years. However, you can get the dose of Tdap no matter when you last received a Td shot. It’s a good idea for you to talk to a healthcare professional about what’s best for your specific situation.
Q: Should I delay travel to an area that is having a pertussis outbreak?
A: No, but those traveling to an area with a pertussis outbreak should make sure they are up to date on their pertussis vaccines. People who did not get all the recommended pertussis vaccines, including babies too young to be vaccinated, are putting themselves at risk for catching pertussis.