Prevent Pertussis

Although vaccines are not 100 percent effective, the best way to prevent whooping cough is to immunize all children against the disease and administer pertussis booster shots to adolescents and adults. To reduce the risk for spreading the disease, infants who are too young to have completed the vaccine series should not be exposed to large groups of people. Vaccination in adults and adolescents is especially important in families with babies and very young children.

Types of pertussis vaccines, which provide protection against whooping cough as well as tetanus and diphtheria, include the DPT vaccine, the DTaP vaccine, and the Tdap vaccine. In naming these vaccines, upper case letters indicate full strength vaccine and lower case letters indicate smaller doses or "booster" vaccines.

The DPT vaccine, which is the earlier form of the vaccination, and the DTaP vaccine are administered in three primary doses at 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months of age; a reinforcing dose at 15–18 months old; and a booster shot at 4–6 years of age. DPT contains whole pertussis cells and the pertussis portion of the DTaP vaccine is acellular (i.e., does not contain whole cells).

The Tdap vaccine is a booster shot that usually is administered to adolescents between the ages of 11 and 12. Some medical providers and health care organizations recommend that adults also receive the Tdap vaccine (e.g., in place of a tetanus shot) to help reduce the transmission of pertussis.

All vaccines carry some risk for adverse effects; however, side effects related to these immunizations usually are mild and include low-grade fever, irritability (fussiness), vomiting, and pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site. Severe reactions are rare and include high fever, seizures, and shock (extremely low blood pressure).

DTaP typically causes fewer side effects than DPT and is the preferred form of the vaccine. Anyone who experiences a serious reaction from a vaccination should speak with a qualified health care provider before receiving another dose of the vaccine. Due to an increased risk for severe side effects, the pertussis component of diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccines may not be recommended for patients with seizure disorders, other neurological diseases, or serious developmental problems.

Pediarix is a newer vaccine that is approved for use in children between the ages of 6 weeks and 7 years. This vaccine, which is administered in 3 doses, provides protection against hepatitis B, polio, diphtheria, and tetanus, as well as whooping cough. Side effects of this vaccination are similar to those caused by other childhood immunizations and include pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site; fever; and irritability. The risk for fever may be higher in children who receive this combined vaccine. Young children who experienced a previous serious reaction to a DPT or DTaP vaccine should not receive Pediarix.

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

Published: 31 Aug 2009

Last Modified: 13 Oct 2015