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Healthy You

The “Whoop” Has Returned: Keys to Protecting Yourself

Tuesday, October 15, 2019 8:00 AM

Pertussis - or “whooping cough” as it’s commonly known - is back. Once described as a childhood illness, more children, teenagers and adults are getting the infection.

Officials with the Illinois Department of Public Health said that in the past few weeks doctors have seen a recent increase in whooping cough cases, especially in young children and adolescents.

From Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, the state’s health department has tracked 389 individual cases of whooping cough, including three outbreaks in Lake County. 

Lindsay Uzunlar, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore, discusses what you should know.


The disease: The bacteria attack the lining of the airway (from the top of the lungs to the very tiny tubes at the bottom) causing them to narrow. The most important reason we vaccinate against the disease is because infants can stop breathing and potentially die from pertussis. Other complications for infants include pneumonia and seizures. That being said, the usual course of pertussis for children/teens/adults is a cough lasting 2-4 or more weeks.

Catching the “whoop”: If you’re near an infected person who coughs or sneezes, you may become infected by breathing in their airborne germs.

Not everybody “whoops”: Infants may not cough but have trouble breathing or stop breathing. Children can have coughing spasms during which they try to take a deep breath giving them a “whooping sound.”  Teens and adults typically don’t “whoop” but have a persistent cough instead.

Symptoms: Whooping cough can initially resemble a cold—runny nose, watery eyes, cough and possibly a fever. But it can become more problematic if the coughing lasts longer than 4 weeks.

Testing & Treatment: A nasal swab confirms the diagnosis and is treated with antibiotics.

Protect Yourself: Vaccination is your best defense. Make sure your vaccination schedule is current. Children should receive the “DTaP” (Diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis) vaccine at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years. Children who are 10 years, pregnant women (even if they were previously vaccinated), adults (especially those who have contact with infants) and health care workers should receive the “Tdap” (tetanus, diphtheria pertussis) vaccine. Adults should be vaccinated every 10 years and pregnant women during every pregnancy between 27-36 weeks gestation.

Action plan: If you/your child are exposed to pertussis and are coughing, or if you/your child have been coughing for more than 4 weeks, please see your doctor. For more serious signs like difficulty breathing, vomiting or seizures, call 9-1-1.

Healthy tips: Get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, eat healthy, don’t smoke, cough into your arm and wash your hands often.

Protect against whooping cough! Are you up to date on your vaccinations?