Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

Pertussis vaccine

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a bacteria. It is also known as "whooping cough" because some people make a "whooping" sound when gasping for air after fits of coughing.

We provide free pertussis immunizations and monitor rates of pertussis illness in the community in order to reduce the amount of illness in infants, children and adults.

If there is pertussis in our community, there are things you can do to protect your health and your family's health.

  1. Make sure that all family members have gotten the pertussis vaccine. You can look up records in the Wisconsin Immunization Registry.
  2. Watch for cold symptoms. If symptoms include a cough that gets worse, contact a health care provider.
  3. If you are pregnant or have an infant, be sure to be immunized on time (pregnant women in third trimester, babies at 2, 4 and 6 months).
  4. If you or a family member is diagnosed with pertussis and are treated with antibiotics, it is critical that you follow isolation orders until the first 5 days of antibiotics have been taken. Close contacts should also be treated.

How is Pertussis Spread?

It is spread from person to person, usually by coughing, sneezing, or spending a lot of time around someone with pertussis.

People with pertussis are most contagious for about 2 weeks after they begin coughing. Coughing fits from pertussis can sometimes last for 10 weeks or more.

Symptoms of Pertussis

Pertussis typically starts with symptoms of a cold, such as runny nose, low-grade fever, and mild occasional cough. This can last for 1-2 weeks.

After 1-2 weeks, additional symptoms may appear:

  • Paroxysms (fits) of rapid coughing, sometimes followed by a "whoop" sound.
  • Vomiting during or after coughing fits.
  • Exhaustion after coughing fits.

Pertussis Complications in Babies and Children

Pertussis in babies can be serious and sometimes deadly, especially if they are not yet fully vaccinated. It is important that all family members who will be around a baby are vaccinated for pertussis, as that will help to protect the baby.


Treating pertussis early is very important. Antibiotics are given to the patient and to their close contacts as prevention. While on the antibiotics, people with symptoms need to stay isolated at home, to prevent further spread of the illness.

Pertussis Immunization

Pertussis can be prevented with immunizations. They are recommended for people of every age.

Babies & Children

  • Get 5 doses of DTaP for maximum protection.
  • Get the doses at 2, 4, 6, and 12-18 months, and again at 4-6 years.
  • At 11-12 years, kids get a booster dose of Tdap.

Teens & Adults

  • Teens and adults who didn't get Tdap at age 11-12 should get a dose of Tdap.
  • Those who care for or are around babies should get a dose of Tdap if they have not had one.

Pregnant Women

  • Should get a Tdap dose during the third trimester of each pregnancy. In addition to protecting the mother from infection and potentially infecting her baby at birth, it transfers antibodies to the newborn.

Free Vaccines

We can immunize infants and children with DTaP or Tdap who:

  • Do not have insurance that covers immunizations.
  • Have Medical Assistance or BadgerCare.
  • Are Native American or Alaska Native.

For FREE - see our Infants, Children & Teens immunizations page for more information.

We can immunize adults with Tdap for FREE - see our Adults immunizations page for more information.

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