Overview of Whooping Cough

Whooping cough, also called pertussis, is an acute respiratory infection that develops suddenly, is highly contagious, and usually occurs in children. Pertussis causes frequent episodes of uncontrollable coughing, often followed by a sharp intake of breath characterized by a "whooping" sound. Whooping cough is a serious illness, especially when it occurs in babies and very young children.

Although pertussis usually affects children, the illness can occur at any age. The pertussis vaccine, which has been widely used in developed areas of the world since 1940, significantly reduces the risk for whooping cough. However, the vaccine does not provide life-long immunity and protection usually lasts about 5–12 years after the final dose is administered. In recent years, the risk for developing whooping cough has increased considerably in adults and adolescents. The exact cause for this increase is unknown, but it may be related to fading immunity from pertussis vaccines.

Incidence and Prevalence of Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Whooping cough occurs throughout the world and outbreaks of the disease typically occur every 3 to 5 years. Prior to widespread immunization, pertussis was one of the most common infectious causes for serious illness and death.

Overall prevalence of pertussis has increased in recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48,277 cases of whooping cough were diagnosed in the United States in 2012 (up from more than 10,000 in 2007) and many more are undiagnosed and unreported each year.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Aug 2009

Last Modified: 13 Oct 2015