Students should ensure they've been vaccinated against whooping cough

May 25, 2012

Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is a respiratory disease caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. Pertussis is a highly contagious disease and cases in the United States are on the rise. In early May, the state of Washington declared a Whooping Cough epidemic. In 2010, more than 27,500 cases were diagnosed but most cases go unreported. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), whooping cough is considered one of the most common vaccine-preventable diseases in this country.

Most individuals are immunized against pertussis as children. Adolescents and adults are at risk for contracting whooping cough because immunity wanes as we get older. Penn State University Health Services (UHS) strongly urges all students who have not yet received this vaccine to discuss vaccination with their healthcare provider while home for the summer break. Students can also schedule an appointment at UHS online at or by calling 814-863-0774.

An adult vaccine is available that combines tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap) into one injection and is recommended for adults over the age of 18 years.  Tdap can be given in place of a routine tetanus vaccine and anytime after a previous tetanus shot.

Early symptoms of whooping cough are similar to the common cold. Symptoms become more serious after a week to 10 days and include intense coughing spells that often result in vomiting, and at times, loss of consciousness. Breathing problems and sleep and eating disturbances can also occur. Pneumonia, broken ribs, and hospitalization are also possible complications of pertussis. 

In children, there is often a characteristic “whoop” sound when gasping for breath during a coughing spell.  In adolescents and adults, this sound is often absent. The cough can last for several weeks to months. In fact, it has been nicknamed the “100 Day Cough” disease. Although the infection can be treated with antibiotics, rendering it non-infectious, there is very little, if anything, that can be done to ease the cough.

For additional information about pertussis, please visit:

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Last Updated April 19, 2017