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(KTVI)- The whooping cough is a respiratory illness, also called pertussis, and is highly contagious.

Margie talks with Dr. Peter Putnam, an ESSE Health Pediatrician, about the symptoms and what you can do to prevent it.

Whooping cough usually begins with mild cold symptoms including runny nose and a cough. It then shifts to a more severe cough in older infants, children, teens and adults. This is characterized by fits of cough lasting up to a minute that may be followed by shortness of breath, vomiting, or a high-pitched “whoop” sound that gives the illness its name. These coughing fits can last for several weeks before they finally go away.

It is worse in infants and can be fatal. While many infants have the severe coughing fits described above, some babies present with apnea, which means “not breathing.” Half of young infants who get pertussis require hospitalization.

To prevent, pertussis vaccines are still the safest and most effective way to prevent whooping cough. The DTaP vaccine is a series of shots given in infancy through early childhood – the final booster is given before kindergarten. Immunity levels in the year after the final booster is given reach 98 percent. But this protection fades over time.

For this reason, since 2005, preteens and adults are recommended to receive the Tdap vaccine as a booster. It has a smaller amount of the pertussis component to boost immunity while minimizing vaccine side effects. The Tdap vaccine is given to 11-12 year olds as a routine booster. New mothers often receive the Tdap as a booster to protect their infant before they leave the hospital after giving birth.

In addition, any other adult caregivers who will be around a new infant (including fathers, grandparents, or others) should receive the Tdap vaccine to provide a “cocoon of protection” around the newborn.

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