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Whooping Cough Prevention in Teens


What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough is a lung infection caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. It is called whooping cough because of the whooping sound of the sick person’s breathing after a series of coughs. It is also known as pertussis.

The illness usually starts with a runny nose, mild cough, and pink eyes. These symptoms last about a week. Then an increasingly severe cough develops that can last 4 weeks. The cough usually comes in spasms and ends with a high-pitched whoop. The coughing sometimes causes a person to vomit, and his or her face may turn red or blue. During the coughing phase, teens with whooping cough do not have a fever. Although teens are very ill with the disease, they almost always recover from it.

Who gets whooping cough?

Any teen can get pertussis, but those most likely to get the disease are those who are not fully vaccinated. Even a person who has had all vaccines can still get pertussis, but usually the disease is less severe. Teens with the disease can infect others. When teens get the vaccine, they are less likely to get pertussis, and less likely to infect others. If everyone in the community got vaccinated, almost no one would get pertussis.

Is there a vaccine?

The vaccine known as Tdap has been developed for teens. It helps to prevent pertussis, diphtheria, and tetanus. The vaccine is similar to the tetanus booster that some teens have received. Although data are limited, evidence shows that the Tdap vaccine is very effective (more than 90%) in preventing pertussis in teens. The Tdap vaccine is very safe.

The Tdap vaccine should be given at 11 to 12 years of age if the child has not gotten a Td booster dose. At least two years should separate getting the tetanus booster (Td) and getting a Tdap. Teens between 13 and 18 years of age who did not get the Tdap or had the Td booster only, should get a Tdap shot.

When should I call my teen’s healthcare provider?

Call your healthcare provider’s office if you have questions or concerns about whooping cough and/or the Tdap vaccine.


Written by Robert Brayden, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-01-30
Last reviewed: 2010-10-13

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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