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Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Information

Whooping Cough Outbreaks in Santa Cruz County

As of winter 2018, whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is widespread throughout Santa Cruz County.Click on image to see large version of chart

More and more infections are being reported each month.

Since October 2018 many more people have been infected with whooping cough than in all of 2016 and 2017 combined.

To protect the most vulnerable members of our community, the Santa Cruz County Division of Public Health is working with schools, families, and the community to stop the spread of whooping cough.

What is whooping cough? How serious is it?

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a very serious disease. Whooping cough begins with cold-like symptoms.

It spreads easily through the air when someone who has the disease breathes, coughs, or sneezes. People who have been vaccinated can become infected. Vaccinated people usually have a shorter illness and milder symptoms.

Whooping cough is most dangerous for babies. Adults and children can spread whooping cough to babies.

About half of infants who get the disease have to be hospitalized. Infants who have whooping cough may:

  • Develop pneumonia (a serious lung infection)
  • Have seizures
  • Suffer brain damage

Whooping cough can even be deadly for babies. Every year since 2010, up to 20 babies have died from whooping cough in the United States.

What can I do to prevent whooping cough?

Complete vaccination (getting all the shots) is the best protection against whooping cough.

To protect babies:

  • To pass protection to their baby, pregnant women should be vaccinated in their 3rd trimester of every pregnancy, (between 27-36 weeks of pregnancy).
  • Children, teens, adults, and all those who are in contact with babies should get a booster of the whooping cough shot.
  • Parents can get their baby’s first whooping cough shot as early as 6-8 weeks of age.

After someone has finished the full series, whooping cough vaccine protects well for about the first two years. Protection then decreases over time. So, during an outbreak, those in contact with babies should get a booster.

Stop the spread of germs, including whooping cough

  • Wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds every time. Sing the whole ABC song to make it to 20 seconds!
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow instead of your hand.
  • Teach children to do #1 and #2 above.
  • If you or your child are sick, stay home from work or school to prevent others from getting sick too.

What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

At first, whooping cough starts with cold symptoms:

  • Runny or stuffed-up nose
  • Mild cough
  • For babies, a pause in breathing (apnea)

Then, the following more serious problems may start. These problems are most common for people who have not yet gotten all their whooping cough shots:

  • Babies may not cough at all. They may gag and gasp instead.
  • Children and adults:
    • Coughing very hard, over and over. Coughing fits happen more at night.
    • Gasping for breath after a coughing fit.
    • Difficulty breathing, eating, drinking, or sleeping because of coughing fits.
    • Vomiting after coughing fits.
    • Turning blue (while coughing or gasping) from lack of oxygen.

Coughing fits can last for 10 weeks. This is why whooping cough is sometimes referred to as the “100 day cough”.

Most people get whooping cough vaccines. Even so, some vaccinated people might still get infected. A person who has been vaccinated before exposure often has less severe symptoms and is sick for less time than someone who has not yet been vaccinated.

What do I do if I or my family have been exposed? Is whooping cough treatable?

For babies: Visit your doctor for either of the following:

  • your baby stops breathing for moments at a time
  • their face turns dark red, purple, or blue

For adults and children: Visit your doctor for any of the following:

  • cough lasts longer than two weeks
  • cough causes vomiting
  • cough comes in violent fits.

If you know you or your child have been exposed to someone diagnosed with whooping cough, see your doctor for a medical evaluation. If you received an Exposure Notice, bring the Exposure Notice with you to the medical appointment.

Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics.

Contact the Communicable Disease Unit at 831-454-4114 with any questions related to whooping cough.


Contact the Communicable Disease Unit at

if you have any questions related to whooping cough.