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Donna Lazorik Posted by Donna Lazorik, RN, MS. Donna is the Immunization Coordinator in the Division of Epidemiology and Immunization at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Whooping cough (also known as pertussis) is a respiratory illness that spreads easily from person to person by coughing or sneezing.  It causes cold-like symptoms followed by a severe cough that can last for weeks or months.  Coughing may come in uncontrollable fits, making it difficult to breathe normally, and may even be followed by vomiting.  A high-pitched “whoop” may occur when gasping for air during a fit of coughing. Whooping cough is preventable by getting a vaccine.   

To listen to a recording of a child’s cough from pertussis, go to:

Babies at risk: Whooping cough is most dangerous for newborns and babies under one year of age who are too young to have full protection from the vaccine.  Many babies who get whooping cough need care in the hospital due to serious complications such as pneumonia and trouble breathing.  This year, an infant in Massachusetts died from whooping cough.  It was the first infant death due to whooping cough in the state in 10 years.  Pertussis appears to be increasing in Massachusetts.  There have been twice as many confirmed cases of pertussis in Massachusetts to date in 2012 as in the same period last year in 2011 (approximately 150 this year versus 80 last year). 

Health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all adults – including pregnant women and adults older than 65 – receive one dose of Tdap vaccine.  Many adults don’t realize that they need to be vaccinated.  You may have received this vaccine as a child but the protection fades over time. 

Adults should get Tdap vaccine to help protect themselves against whooping cough and prevent the spread of disease to others. It’s especially important for any adult who has close contact with babies younger than 12 months of age to get a dose of Tdap to help protect the baby from whooping cough.  This includes parents, siblings, grandparents, health care providers and child care providers. 

If you have questions about whooping cough or the Tdap vaccine, talk to your health care provider.  You can also visit the CDC website at

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