Keeping newborns safe from whooping cough: It takes a village!

Whooping cough is a respiratory infection sometimes called the “100-Day Cough,” or simply pertussis.

This infection, which is caused by the bacteria Bordatella pertussis, has been on the rise since the 1980s. Washington State currently is experiencing an outbreak of whooping cough and the number of cases in Oregon is much higher than the national average.

People of all ages can contract this highly contagious illness, but it can be especially dangerous for infants. Most babies who get pertussis are infected by those who love them the most. That’s why it is so important for everyone involved in your new baby’s care to be vaccinated against pertussis.

Symptoms and complications of pertussis
The symptoms of pertussis can be highly variable. Some adults may have only a runny nose and cough. Others may have violent coughing fits, sometimes followed by a “whoop” sound. Children may appear exhausted or even vomit after a coughing fit. Infants with pertussis may experience apnea (a pause in breathing) or develop serious complications involving the lungs or brain.

More than half of infected infants must be hospitalized. Of these, approximately 1 in 4 infants with pertussis will develop pneumonia. Tragically, 1 to 2 in 100 infants hospitalized for the infection will die.

Who should be vaccinated against pertussis?
Thankfully, there is a vaccine that protects against B. pertussis. The childhood vaccine to prevent pertussis is started at 2 months of age, but infants are often not protected until they have received multiple vaccinations in this series.

Older children, teens and adults are eligible for a vaccine booster called Tdap. It is important that those who care for young children keep them safe from this illness by staying up to date on their pertussis vaccine. We call this protection process of surrounding vulnerable infants with vaccinated caregivers “cocooning.” This includes new moms, dads, and siblings, as well as grandparents, nannies and any others coming into regular contact with your newborn. Pregnant moms can safely receive the vaccine after 20 weeks of gestation.

It is important to remember that pertussis symptoms range from minimal to severe, and even those with a mild illness may transmit the bacteria through coughing or blowing their nose. Some people with pertussis have a fever, but most do not.

The best way to prevent the spread of infection is by vaccination. Parents of newborns, it’s OK to ask your friends and family, “Have you had your whooping cough shot?”

Get ready for your new baby now and protect yourself and your family from pertussis!  Make an appointment today to receive your Tdap vaccine from your OHSU Healthcare provider.

For more information about whooping cough prevention, visit:

Marie Martin
Fourth-year medical student,
OHSU School of Medicine

Carrie Phillipi, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Pediatrics, OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital
Director, OHSU Mother-Baby Unit