The Travel Health and Vaccine Specialists

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Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

What is pertussis?
Pertussis, also known as “whooping cough,” is a contagious disease spread when infected people cough and sneeze near others.

Early symptoms are similar to a cold and include runny nose, low fevers, mild cough, and a pause in breathing for babies. Later symptoms of the disease include “fits” of many rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched “whoop,” vomiting, and exhaustion. Pertussis is very serious for babies. Among babies younger than 1 year of age who get pertussis, more than half will be hospitalized and 1 in 100 will die.

Who is at risk?
Pertussis is seen in all countries, so all travelers are at risk. Pertussis rates are the highest in developing countries where very few people have had the vaccine. Babies who are too young to have had their first 3 pertussis shots are most at risk. Adults, even those who received pertussis vaccines as children, should be revaccinated with a one-time dose of Tdap vaccine. It is estimated that 30–50 million people get pertussis and 300,000 people die from pertussis every year worldwide.

What can travelers do to prevent pertussis?
Get a pertussis vaccine:

  • Adults 19 or older should receive a single dose of Tdap vaccine. Confirm with your doctor that you have received the vaccine for pertussis.
  • In the United States, pertussis vaccine is only available in combination with other vaccines that protect you against diseases such as diphtheria and tetanus. They are DTaP and Tdap.
  • DTaP vaccine is given to children younger than 7 years of age.
    • Children should get 5 doses of DTaP, one dose at each of the following ages: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 15-18 months and 4-6 years.
  • Tdap vaccine is given to adolescents and adults.
    • Adolescents 11-18 years of age should receive a booster dose, preferably at 11-12 years of age.
    • Adults 19 years of age and older should receive a one-time booster dose.
      • Note: Do not confuse this with the Td (tetanus/diphtheria) vaccine which you should receive every 10 years or after an exposure to tetanus.
      • Pregnant women should get a dose of Tdap during each pregnancy, preferably at 27 through 36 weeks gestation.
    • For children 7-10 years of age who are not fully immunized against pertussis, a single dose of Tdap should be given.
  • See Vaccine Information Statements (VIS) for more information.
    • DTaP VIS
    • Tdap VIS

Practice hygiene and cleanliness:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • If soap and water aren’t available, clean hands with hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol).
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils or cups, with people who are sick.