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Childhood Vaccinations

Whooping Cough Vaccine

Children before the first birthday are most at risk for contracting whooping cough.
Children before the first birthday are most at risk for contracting whooping cough.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

Children under one year old are the most at risk for whooping cough. Find out what you can do to protect your family against this infection.

Whooping Cough Basics


The bacterium Bordetella pertussis causes whooping cough. This bacterial infection of the respiratory system is marked by severe coughing spells that end in a "whooping" sound when a child takes a breath. These coughing spells can last more than a minute and cause a child to turn purple or red and sometimes vomit. In severe episodes, the child may suffer from lack of oxygen to the brain.

Who's at Risk for Whooping Cough

Whooping cough is highly contagious. It can occur at any age but is most severe before children reach their first birthday, because they are not yet adequately protected by immunizations. The immunity provided by the early childhood vaccines and the booster often wanes, leaving adolescents and adults susceptible. When these older people get whooping cough, they usually have a hacking cough, not whoops.

Defensive Measures Against Whooping Cough

Whooping cough can be prevented with the pertussis vaccine, which is part of the DTP or DTaP shot. To give additional protection in case immunity fades, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends a booster shot of the newer combination vaccine (called Tdap) for those between the ages of 11 and 18 instead of the Td booster routinely given in this age range.

The older DTP vaccine contained killed, whole bacteria and commonly caused fever, pain, and redness at the vaccination site. Now, a cell-free vaccine that uses inactivated toxins (toxoids) is used. It is better tolerated, although it does not produce immunity that lasts longer than the older product.

If someone in your family has whooping cough, every member of your household might receive antibiotics. Young children who have not received all five doses of the vaccine may require an immediate booster dose if exposed to an infected family member.

Thanks to medical breakthroughs throughout the years, many potentially serious diseases are no longer a concern for parents. By working with your child's pediatrician, you can ensure your child receives all the proper vaccinations and remains as healthy as possible throughout childhood and into adulthood.

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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Laurie L. Dove is an award winning Kansas-based journalist and author whose work has been published internationally. A dedicated consumer advocate, Dove specializes in writing about health, parenting, fitness and travel. An active member of the National Federation of Press Women, Dove also is the former owner of a parenting magazine and a weekly newspaper.


Dr. Larry Lutwick: is a Professor of Medicine at the State University of New York Downstate Medical School in Brooklyn, New York and Director of Infectious Diseases, Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Health Care System, Brooklyn Campus. He is also Bacterial Diseases Moderator for the real time online infectious diseases surveillance system, Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED-mail) and has authored more than 100 medical articles and 15 book chapters. He has edited two books on infectious diseases.