Pertussis: the 100 Days Cough
In the beginning the illness looks like a common cold, with a fever, sneezing, runny nose, and a normal sounding cough. After 1-2 weeks, most of the symptoms resolve but the cough sticks around and just gets worse. Many kids will develop what are called “paroxysms” of coughing, meaning they will have bad coughing fits where they will cough several times in a row, followed by a gasp for breath (the “whoop” in whooping cough).
How Common is Pertussis?
Is Pertussis Dangerous?
The 100 Days Cough
While most kids get over pertussis in a few weeks, this cough can last a LONG TIME. It is sometimes referred to as the “Hundred Days Cough,” because it can literally last for 100 days (though it is usually only 1-6 weeks). In addition, after a kid recovers from pertussis and their cough goes away, they may still have an occasional coughing bout now and again, and they are often extra susceptible to upper respiratory infections for several months.
The Pertussis Vaccine: It Puts the “P” in DTaP
NOTE: The DTaP vaccine is how a kid gets vaccinated against tetanus. You can not get your child (or yourself) at vaccine for tetanus alone - it is always given either with pertussis and diphtheria (DTaP) or with diphtheria (TD).
When is the Pertussis (DTaP) vaccine given?
The CDC recommends that kids starts getting DTaP at 2 months, again at 4 months and 6 months. Booster shots are given at 15 months, 18 months, and a final booster some time between ages 4-6.
NOTE: Newborns are never given pertussis vaccines because their immune systems are unable to produce antibodies until they are around 2 months old.
How Effective is the Pertussis Vaccine?
Are There Risks Associated with the Pertussis vaccine?
A study in the UK of 448 children and adolescents showed that about 1% of the children who had never received any immunizations had asthma, and 3% of those who had been given vaccinations other than pertussis had asthma. In contrast, 11% of those kids who got the pertussis vaccine went on to develop asthma.
While pertussis in infancy is a very serious illness, it’s important to remember that asthma is a serious illness as well - while the overall mortality rate of pertussis is 0.05%, asthma, which can be a lifelong illness, has an overall yearly mortality rate of 0.02% (3,630 people per year).
When getting a DTaP vaccine is
an especially good idea:
- If your child is in daycare
- If you, your child, or close caretakers are frequently around other children (especially unvaccinated kids)
- If your child has any other medical condition that would make a pertussis infection especially dangerous for them, such as immunodeficiency or Down’s syndrome
- If your child has a medical condition that might make them especially susceptible to contracting pertussis, such as asthma
- If your child is around unvaccinated infants, other children with immunodeficiency, or any other medically vulnerable kids (in order to help protect the other child)
My baby isn’t vaccinated against pertussis.
How can I protect her?
- Asking adults who are around your child to get their Tdap vaccinations for that year (sometimes called “Infant Cocooning”). Adults and adolescents in your child’s immediate environment are much less likely to have negative side effects from the vaccine - and they are the most common way for an infant to get pertussis!