A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Watch out for whooping cough this winter

Mom kissing daughter on forehead during story time

Whooping cough is transmitted in similar ways as other respiratory infections, by coughing, sneezing and close contact with others.

It starts out much like the common cold, but pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, quickly can turn more serious, and even deadly.

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That’s not unusual for this time of year, but it’s a good idea to watch your family for signs of whooping cough if they’ve potentially been exposed to the illness. And remember, it’s not too late to get your family’s vaccines up to date.

“Whooping cough is transmitted in similar ways as other respiratory infections, by coughing, sneezing and close contact with others,” said Dr. Michael Sullivan, a Marshfield Children’s pediatrician. “What makes it different is that it can cause severe illness and long-lasting consequences.”

Signs and symptoms of whooping cough

Whooping cough starts out with typical cold symptoms like runny nose, congestion, fever and cough. The infection quickly progresses to a sharp, short cough in about a week, Sullivan said. See your doctor if you notice these symptoms.

Long coughing fits can lead to vomiting and in severe cases, bleeding in the brain or eyes.

The infection can be fatal in young children, who may stop breathing when they become tired from coughing.

Treatment with antibiotics

Bacteria causes whooping cough, so the infection is treated with antibiotics. If you’re diagnosed with whooping cough, stay home from work or school until your doctor tells you it’s safe to return.

“Taking antibiotics early can help your cough go away sooner and reduce the amount of time you can infect other people,” Dr. Sullivan said.

Talk to your primary care provider about treatment and prevention if your family has been exposed to a whooping cough outbreak.

Vaccines protect your family from whooping cough

Fortunately, vaccines can prevent 80 to 85 percent of whooping cough cases, Dr. Sullivan said.

Unlike the flu vaccine, you don’t need to get vaccinated every year.

Babies and children should get five doses of the vaccine between 2 months and 6 years old and a booster at age 11 or 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Women should be vaccinated during each pregnancy, and other adults who spend time around babies should get a booster.

“The vaccine is very safe,” Dr. Sullivan said. “Getting vaccinated is of paramount importance to prevent serious illness and death. We need to vaccinate as many people as possible to get the maximum benefit.”

Visit Marshfield Clinic vaccine hub

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