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Immunization Division


Information for parents of newborns
Frequently asked questions
Resources for health providers

Information for parents of newborns

Pertussis (whooping cough) is life threatening to babies.

Surround your baby with protection. Vaccinate your entire family.

Pertussis can be deadly to infants. It keeps them from breathing and eating. It may cause pneumonia, brain damage, and even death. In some cases, babies cannot breathe or cough.

Have your family create a “cocoon” of protection around your baby by getting vaccinated

Are pertussis vaccines safe?

Both the childhood vaccine (DTaP) and the adolescent/adult vaccine (Tdap) are safe and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

For more information about vaccine safety, visit:

Can my baby get the pertussis (DTaP) vaccine?

Yes. Babies can get the pertussis vaccine when they are two months old, then again at four and six months. They are not fully protected until they get the third dose of the vaccine at six months.

How can I protect my baby until he/she gets his/her own vaccines?

Ensure everyone who is going to be around your baby gets vaccinated with the Tdap vaccine. This includes their mother, father, grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, baby sitters and even their doctors and nurses.

Call your health provider about getting pertussis vaccines for your entire family.


Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases (PKIDS)


What is whooping cough?

Whooping cough is the common name for pertussis. Whooping cough is a serious, highly contagious disease caused by bacteria that can be especially dangerous for infants and children under 5 years of age.

image of childrenHow dangerous is the disease?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • More than half of infants less than 1 year of age who get whooping cough must be hospitalized. Of those infants hospitalized:
  • About 1 in 4 infants with whooping cough get pneumonia (lung infection) and about 1 in 100 children will have convulsions.
  • About 1 in 300 infants with whooping cough develop a brain disorder called encephalopathy.
  • Two thirds of infants will have apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)
  • Whooping cough can be deadly. About 1 in 100 hospitalized infants with whooping cough will die.

How do people catch it?

Whooping cough – pertussis – is spread when people are exposed to the coughs and sneezes of an infected person. It is very contagious and can spread, on average to 80 percent of those coming in contact with a sick person.

Most children under 6 years of age have received a series of shots to protect them from pertussis.  However, that protection wears off in 5-10 years. That makes older children, teens, and adults more likely to contract the infection and spread it to others.

What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

At first, symptoms are very similar to those of a common cold:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Mild fever
  • Occasional cough.

One to two weeks after the first symptoms appear:

  • The cough gradually becomes more severe.
  • Paroxsyms (fits) of many rapid coughs is often followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like “whoop.”
  • Some coughing fits are so severe, they can lead to vomiting.
  • This advanced stage of the disease can last up to six weeks before the symptoms begin to gradually disappear.

Adolescents and adults often have milder disease (cold symptoms with a prolonged cough, commonly without the classic “whoop”). 

image of a mother and babyHow will I know when to go to the doctor?

If you or your child develops a cold that includes a prolonged or severe cough,  it could be whooping cough. Always contact your healthcare provider if pertussis is suspected.

How is whooping cough treated?

Antibiotics are used to treat whooping cough and to protect others who have been in close contact with the infected person from getting it. Rest and plenty of liquids are also urged.

Isn’t whooping cough a thing of the past?

In the early 1900s, there were about 160,000 cases of whooping cough and around 5,000 deaths from it in the U.S. each year. Between 1940 and 1945, there was an average of 175,000 cases of pertussis per year.  Vaccines were developed and widely used in the 1940s. By 1970 were fewer than 5,000 cases per year in the United States

Since the 1980s we’ve seen a dramatic and unfortunate increase in the number of cases. Many of those cases are among adolescents and teens (ages 10–19), and babies less than 6 months of age. In 2010 there were more than 27,550 cases including 27 deaths from pertussis nationally. Nationwide, more than 41,000 cases were reported to CDC in 2012, which is higher than any previous year since 1955. In 2012, South Carolina had 230 cases of pertussis with the majority occurring in children under 2 years old and adolescents 10-17 years old.

What can be done to stop the spread of this disease?

DHEC and the South Carolina Hospital Association encourage all South Carolina hospitals to take appropriate steps to protect their patients, visitors, employees, medical staff members, and volunteers from pertussis infection through the development and implementation of a pertussis prevention plan. Read the Pertussis Vaccination Position Statement here.

Who should get the vaccine?

Children 6 and younger must get the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccine to attend school and daycare in South Carolina. The vaccination works best when it is given in five separate doses at these recommended intervals:

  • 2 months of age
  • 4 months of age
  • 6 months of age
  • 15-18 months of age, and
  • When starting elementary school (4-6 years of age).

Who should get the booster shot?

New recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that a single dose of the booster shot called Tdap is recommended for the following persons:

  • Children 7-10 years of age who are not fully vaccinated against pertussis and for whom no contraindication to pertussis vaccine exists
  • Pre-teens and teens 11-18 years of age
  • Adults 19 years of age and older
  • Healthcare personnel in hospitals and ambulatory care settings with direct patient contact
  • The exception to the single dose of Tdap vaccine is among pregnant women. A dose of Tdap vaccine should be administered during each pregnancy. The optimal timing for receiving Tdap during pregnancy is between 27 and 36 weeks gestation. This allows the best transfer of protection against pertussis from the mother to her newborn

New Rule for SchoolTdap vaccine is especially important for those persons noted above who have contact with an infant younger than 12 months of age (e.g., parents, grandparents and other family members, babysitters, daycare workers, healthcare workers). To assist in the efforts to increase protection, Tdap is required for all 7th grade students in South Carolina.

Please note that Tdap vaccine can be given regardless of when you last received a tetanus shot or tetanus/diphtheria booster shot; there is no waiting period needed.  Don’t delay your vaccination against whooping cough, especially if you have contact with an infant.

For more information, see CDC’s pertussis website.

Resources for health providers