ZocdocAnswersCan adults get whooping cough?

Question

Can adults get whooping cough?

Can adults get whooping cough, or does it just afflict little kids? I've only heard of the young being hurt by it, but now that a child in my son's class has come down with it, I'm wondering if I, my wife, or my teenage daughter should get vaccinated.

Answer

You should get vaccinated. Whooping cough is caused by a bacteria, Bordatella pertussis. Adults are not immune to the infection, though they can have different symptoms. Classically, the early phase of the infection, which lasts a couple weeks, consists only of runny nose and mild coughing and/or sneezing. After this phase, the infection progresses to include violent coughing fits, which can be followed by vomiting, due to the severity of the coughing spasm. During these coughing fits, people frequently gasp for air, and small children make a characteristic "whoop" while gasping through their small airways. Older children and adults have larger airways, and therefore do not make quite as high-pitched a sound. After several weeks of this phase (which can be shortened with antibiotics), symptoms calm down and fade away. Pertussis infections can also present as more of a pneumonia-like syndrome in adults, and it is a surprisingly common infection during the winter months. Fortunately, the new version of the tetanus vaccine (which already includes immunization against diptheria) has added vaccination for pertussis. If it's been two years since your last tetanus shot, you can get this new combined vaccine (with triple protection from just one shot). Talk to your doctor. While you may not catch whooping cough from this particular exposure, it's a miserable disease that you can avoid.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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