State Epidemiologist Says Vaccination is Best Prevention for Whooping Cough

Cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, are on the rise in New Jersey and throughout the country right now. New Jersey State Epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the situation is being closely monitored and offered information and some tips for prevention.

Whooping cough is a bacterial respiratory illness that can sometimes lead to very serious complications and potentially hospitalization, Tan explained. She said very young infants and people who cannot be immunized against the disease are most at risk of infection.

“Pertussis is a vaccine preventable disease and one of the number one things that people can do to prevent whooping cough or any other vaccine preventable disease is to make sure that their vaccinations are up to date,” Tan said.


She said the number of whooping cough cases per year varies and officials tend to see a spike in cases every three to five years. Tan said the increase can be because of a variety of reasons including the wearing off of immunity, increased recognition and reporting by physicians and better testing.

In the first one to two weeks of having whooping cough, symptoms can include a mild cough, low grade fever and runny nose. But as the disease progresses, patients get increasingly ill. “They develop a much more intense cough that is followed by a high pitch whoop, therefore the name. And then there’s vomiting,” Tan said. “There could be exhaustion simply from the mere coughing, the exertion of the coughing itself.”

Whooping cough can be easily spread, according to Tan, through individuals being in close proximity to each other and coughing on each other. That’s why Tan said it’s important for residents to be vaccinated against the disease. She said another good way to prevent the spread of whooping cough and other illnesses is to practice good hygiene and hand-washing and avoid contact with others when you are sick.

If a person is exposed to whooping cough, Tan said he or she should contact his or her primary care physician who will determine, along with the local health department and health authorities, if any course of post-exposure medication should be administered. “It will depend on the particular situation, whether indeed you’re exposed to a truly confirmed case,” she said.