Whooping cough is very contagious and can lead to serious illness, especially in babies who aren't fully vaccinated. Many babies who get whooping cough are infected by parents, older siblings, or other caregivers who might not even know they have the disease. People with whooping cough usually spread the disease by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the bacteria that cause the disease.
Whooping cough disease starts like the common cold, with a runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and maybe a mild cough or fever. But after 1 to 2 weeks, severe coughing can begin. Unlike the common cold, whooping cough can lead to fits of violent and rapid coughing, over and over, until all the air is gone from the lungs and you are forced to inhale with a loud "whooping" sound. In babies, the cough can be minimal or not even there. They may instead have life-threatening pauses in breathing (apnea).
The Pertussis vaccines can be obtained through your health care provider. Whooping cough vaccines are very effective for protecting babies, but not 100% effective. There is still a chance that a fully vaccinated person can catch this very contagious disease.
Vaccine protection for whooping cough also decreases over time. If you have been vaccinated and still get whooping cough, you will have fewer coughing fits, shorter illness, and be less likely to suffer from disease complications. When you or your child develops a cold that includes a prolonged or severe cough, it may be whooping cough. The best way to know is to contact your doctor.