November 01, 2019

Pertussis

When to get tested for whooping cough

You might think whooping cough (pertussis) is a disease that only affects infants and kids. If you're an older adult who's been vaccinated, why worry?

While it's true that babies are most at risk of pertussis infection and serious complications, older adults also can be vulnerable to the illness, even after being vaccinated. Your immunity to pertussis fades after just five to 10 years of getting the vaccination. And even if you've had pertussis in the past, you're not immune to getting it again. Older adults are also at risk of complications of pertussis because of changes that happen to their immune system as they get older.

Add to that the fact that cases of pertussis in the U.S. have been on the rise for several years. An increase in incidence makes it more likely you could be exposed.

How it spreads

Pertussis is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, which spreads easily between people through the air. You can get pertussis if an infected person coughs or sneezes, sending bacteria-containing droplets into the air.

Another reason pertussis spreads easily is because it's most contagious during the early stages of the illness before severe coughing begins and before those infected with pertussis know they have it. Pertussis is contagious for up to three weeks after symptoms begin. One person infected with pertussis can transmit the illness to many other people.

When to see your doctor

Not every cough means you have pertussis. And not every case of pertussis has a cough or the telltale "whoop"...