If you think of whooping cough, or pertussis, as a childhood illness, think again. Adults of any age can contract this condition. In fact, in 2019 nearly 25 percent of reported whooping cough cases in the United States were in people aged 20 or older.

This illness can make you quite sick, and two-thirds of the people who get it miss an average of 10 days of work.

Know the Facts

Here are seven important facts about whooping cough:

  1. It can cause several serious problems including weight loss, incontinence, passing out, and bruised or fractured ribs. These issues can be serious enough to require hospitalization.
  2. Whooping cough is contagious. It spreads easily through coughing or sneezing in close contact. People are most infectious in the first two weeks after the cough starts.
  3. Signs of whooping cough include a squeaking/wheezing sound when you inhale, a runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever, and apnea (brief cessation of breathing after a coughing fit).
  4. It is important to get treated for whooping cough as early as possible; this can help make the infection less serious and reduce coughing fits. Treatments generally involve antibiotics. Talk to your doctor before you take cough medicine or other over-the-counter products.
  5. Treatment after three weeks of illness isn’t likely to help, as the bacteria is likely gone from your body by then.
  6. Tdap and DTaP vaccines can help protect you against tetanus and diphtheria, as well as pertussis (whooping cough). However, no vaccine is 100% effective; and a fully vaccinated person of any age can catch the illness. Nonetheless, if you have been vaccinated against pertussis and still get the infection, you likely won’t get as ill.
  7. Practicing good hygiene can help prevent you or others from getting whooping cough. Specifically: wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at lest 20 seconds; cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze; and put used tissues in a secure waste basket.

It’s not always possible to avoid illnesses that are going around. But when you have the facts and take appropriate preventive measures, you are less likely to get illness such as whooping cough.