Facts and Symptoms

Protect your family from pertussis. Know the facts.

  • The disease is most dangerous to infants and young children.
  • 80% of infants contract pertussis from household members.
  • Infants are not fully protected from this disease until they receive the fourth dose of DTaP vaccination at 15-18 months of age.
  • Antibiotics may not lessen the symptoms of this disease.
  • Immunity provided by the pertussis vaccine can wane over time.[3]
  • Unvaccinated children are at eight times higher risk of getting pertussis compared to vaccinated children.
  • Preteens and teens (ages 11 to 18) need a booster.[4]
  • Grandparents and other people over the age of 65 can and should get the Tdap booster. [5] [6]
  • Persons with pertussis are most infectious during the early stages of the disease, including the first two weeks of cough, and need to be treated with antibiotics and excluded from work, school, and other group activities to prevent the spread of infection.

Anyone with a cough illness lasting two weeks or longer and/or anyone who has unexplained coughing spasms should be evaluated for pertussis.

Anyone diagnosed with pertussis and their household and other close contacts should receive antibiotics to prevent further spread of the disease.

Anyone starting antibiotics to treat pertussis should stay home and avoid contact with all persons outside of the household for five days after starting appropriate antibiotics.


Pertussis symptoms mimic the common cold in the first week, but the cough worsens into prolonged coughing fits that last from 30 seconds to as long as 2 minutes. A chronic, uncontrollable cough that may cause vomiting is characteristic of the disease. The cough can sometimes end in a “whooping” sound when the person breathes in. The “whoop” is not always present, particularly in infants.

How it spreads

You can get pertussis from breathing in the pertussis bacteria, Bordetella pertussis. The germ comes out of the mouth and nose when someone who has pertussis coughs or sneezes. If you’ve been exposed to someone who has pertussis, see your health care provider immediately. A person who has been exposed to the disease may be given an antibiotic as a precaution. Stay away from other people until treated or until another diagnosis for the cough proves it’s not contagious.