Health Library

Categories > Parenting > Raising healthy kids

Pertussis on the rise

Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease characterized by severe coughing. It’s a significant health threat, particularly to infants and young children, who are at a greater risk for complications. Following the introduction of the pertussis immunization in the mid-1940s, cases of the disease declined more than 99 percent and to an all-time low by 1976. However, since then, there’s been an increase, with nearly 26,000 cases reported in 2004.

According to Oktibbeha County Hospital Staff Pediatrician Paul Ruff, M.D., pertussis is primarily spread by direct contact with discharge from the nose or throat of infected people, and although it can occur at any age, it’s most often diagnosed in children under age 5, with 50 percent of them under 1 year. “A child with classic pertussis will have severe spasms of quick, short coughs like a machine gun without breathing in between and afterward will strain to inhale, which is what produces the signature, high-pitched whooping sound,” he says.

The pediatrician explains that in young children, pertussis can result in hospitalization, serious long-term complications and even death, which is why vaccination is so important. “The vaccine for pertussis—usually combined with vaccines for diphtheria and tetanus—is very effective,” he says, noting that it should be administered at ages 2, 4 and 6 months, between 15 and 18 months, as well as between 4 and 6 years old. “And now, with the increased incidence of the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is actually recommending that certain groups get a pertussis booster.” They include:

  • new mothers
  • kids ages 11 and older
  • healthcare workers

In addition, the pediatrician notes a new vaccine is also available to immunize teens and preteens against the leading cause of meningitis in young adults, Neisseria meningitidis. While this and the pertussis vaccine are still optional, they may soon be required for school or college entry.

To learn more about these diseases and the recommended vaccines, visit the CDC Web site at To reduce the risk to your child or adolescent, call Starkville Pediatric Clinic at (662) 323-0999 and get your youngster immunized!