Banner Health Services  


Michael McQueen, MD, is the medical director of Banner Thunderbird Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. His office can be reached at (623) 327-5888.

Question: I have heard a lot about whooping cough and pertussis, but I am confused. Can you help me understand them better?

Pertussis, also known as “whooping cough,” is a disease caused by bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. The bad news is it is a fairly common disease, and highly contagious. The good news, though, is that a simple vaccine can offer significant protection against pertussis.

Pertussis can cause serious illness in adults and older children, but often is thought to be “just a cold.”  It is more severe for younger children, however, and especially severe – even dangerous - for infants.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), for infants less than 1 year of age who get infected with pertussis, as many as 1 in 5 will get pneumonia, over half of the infants will need to be hospitalized, and about 1 in 100 in that young age group may develop seizures and/or die from the disease.

Since pertussis is usually spread by coughing or sneezing, most infants and young children get pertussis from parents, older siblings, or other caregivers. That means that there are two parts to the most effective strategy for protecting infants from pertussis: (1) make sure the infants get their vaccines on time, and (2) just as important, make sure the adults and older children around the infant are vaccinated against pertussis. Remember, even if teenagers and adults were vaccinated as children, that protection fades over time, and revaccination is needed.

I’d like to add a special note on pregnancy and pertussis vaccine: pregnant women who have not previously been vaccinated, or who did not receive a pertussis booster shot as an adolescent, should also get one dose of the vaccine, ideally during the third trimester. By getting the vaccine during pregnancy, antibodies against pertussis can transfer from mother to baby, and offer some protection even before the baby starts getting his or her own vaccinations.

As always, talk with your doctor about your specific family and health care situations to decide on the best protection strategy for you and your family.
Page Last Modified: 12/01/2011
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