Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Among Infants, Children and Adolescents

Recently, there has been in increase in reported cases of Pertussis in Colorado and specifically in Douglas County. According to the Tri-County Health Department, some of the highest pertussis rates are occurring in adolescents, ages 10 to 14. Pertussis can cause serious and potentially life-threatening complications in infants and young children who are not fully vaccinated.

Although there are many upper respiratory illnesses during the cold virus season, pertussis is characterized by paroxysms (bursts) of coughs accompanied by a high pitched “whoop" at the end of the cough. Vomiting and exhaustion may occur from frequent episodes of coughing paroxysms. More severe symptoms may include cyanosis (low oxygen) and apnea (forgetting to breathe).

Infants under the age of 1 year have the highest risk for severe complications and death related to pertussis. In infants, cough may be minimal or absent, and apnea may be the only presenting symptom. Pertussis infections can be milder in adults and older children, and the characteristic "whoop" may be absent. As a result, pertussis infections in adults and children can go unrecognized and the disease can be spread to infants they come in contact with. This makes pertussis vaccination among caregivers of infants, as well as the older children that interact with them, exceedingly important.

Preventing Pertussis Among Infants

"Immunization is the best preventive measure we have to help control rates of pertussis, especially in people who have contact or work with infants, including pregnant women,” says Angela Polson, assistant chief nursing officer and director of Women's and Children’s Services at Sky Ridge Medical Center.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) specifically recommends tetanus, diptheria, and acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccinations for pregnant women more than 20 weeks gestation. Pregnant women who were not vaccinated during pregnancy should receive Tdap immediately postpartum. 

Anyone who will be around an infant — expectant fathers, siblings, grandparents (including those 65 years and older), other family members, and nannies/childcare providers — should be vaccinated against pertussis at least two weeks before coming into close contact with the infant. 

"Pertussis may be very severe in infants and young children, particularly those who have not yet had three doses of the pertussis vaccine," adds Polson. "This can result in hospitalization, pneumonia, seizures and possibly long-term neurological problems. Infected adults and older siblings are very likely to transmit pertussis to young children in their household."

Information provided by Tri-County Health Department