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Pertussis, better known as whooping cough, is highly contagious and is one of the most commonly occurring vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States. People with pertussis usually spread the disease by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the pertussis bacteria. Many infants who get pertussis are infected by older siblings, parents or other caregivers who might not even know they have the disease.

Pertussis is most severe for babies, who often catch the illness from a family member or other caregiver.

More than half of infants less than 1 year of age who get the disease must be hospitalized. In rare cases (1 in 100), pertussis can be deadly, especially in infants less than 1 year of age.

In 2010, several states, including Ohio, reported increased cases of pertussis as compared to the same time in 2009. Pertussis symptoms can be different depending on how old you are or if you’ve been vaccinated.

Confirmed Pertussis Cases in Ohio
















Pertussis usually starts with cold-like symptoms, and maybe mild cough, but not every runny nose is pertussis. Pertussis is often not suspected or diagnosed until a persistent cough with spasms sets in after 1–2 weeks.  

In infants, the cough may be mild or absent. However, infants may have a symptom known as “apnea.” Apnea is a pause in the child’s breathing pattern. Infants and children with pertussis can cough violently and rapidly, over and over, until the air is gone from their lungs and they're forced to inhale with a loud "whooping" sound. This extreme coughing can result in vomiting and exhaustion. Illness is generally less severe in adolescents and adults. The coughing fits can take place for 10 weeks or more.

Seeking treatment when pertussis symptoms first start is important.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers this advice for treatment:

  • If you or your child is having trouble breathing, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Tell the doctor if you or your child has been around others with cough/cold symptoms or if you’ve heard that pertussis is in your community.
  • Antibiotic treatment may make the pertussis infection less severe if it is started early, before coughing fits begin. 
  • Antibiotic treatment can help prevent spreading the disease to close contacts (people who have spent a lot of time around the infected person) and is necessary for stopping the spread of pertussis.

ODH encourages Ohioans to make sure they are up to date with recommended pertussis vaccines (DTaP for infants/children and Tdap for adolescents/adults). If you’re not sure if you are up to date, call your doctor to see what’s best for you and your family.

Many infants who get pertussis are infected by older siblings, parents, or other caregivers who might not even know they have the disease. If you are planning on becoming pregnant, are currently pregnant or have recently given birth, talk to your doctor about getting the Tdap vaccine. Don’t risk spreading this disease to your baby. Make sure all people around your baby are vaccinated with Tdap including siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nannies, caregivers, childcare staff, etc.

In our efforts to reduce the spread of pertussis across the Buckeye State, ODH added additional immunization requirements for school entry for 7th grade students. Starting in the 2012 school year, all children entering 7th grade will be required to have a tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) or tetanus and diphtheria (Td) booster shot.

Pertussis County Map


ODH Immunizations Program:

ODH Pertussis Pamphlet:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: