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Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Information

Whooping Cough Outbreak in Santa Cruz County

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, continues to be widespread throughout all areas of Santa Cruz County. Providers may review the Clinical Features of pertussis here; additional links are also available in the right-hand sidebar.Click on image to see large version of chart

There have been 340 cases between January 2018 and July 2019.  As the graph shows, case counts have been significantly higher September 2018 through July 2019 compared to previous seasons.  New infections continue to be reported each month. (click on chart above or below to expand)Click on image to see large version of chart

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. Adults and children can spread whooping cough to infants. 

Whooping cough is most dangerous for babies, especially for infants too young to be vaccinated.

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.
  • Babies can get their first whooping cough shot as early as 6-8 weeks of age.

People who have been vaccinated are well-protected for the first two to three years, with protection decreasing as time goes on.  Even so, vaccinated people usually have a shorter illness and milder symptoms.

To 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

After about a week or two, the cough becomes worse and a person might have:

  • “Coughing fits” (a sudden onset of several coughs in a row without being able to get a good breath in-between). Coughing fits can happen more at night.
  • Vomiting after coughing fits

Infants less than 1 year of age (particularly very young infants) may or may not have a noticeable cough.  They may also experience different symptoms:

  • Gag or gasp
  • Stop breathing (apnea)
  • Facial color changes (may turn blue, purple, or red from lack of oxygen)

Whooping cough can last up to 10 weeks, along with coughing fits. This is why whooping cough is sometimes referred to as the “100 day cough”.

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

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 from a school, childcare, or workplace, bring the Exposure Notice with you to the medical appointment.

Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics.  Household members of people diagnosed with whooping cough may also be recommended to take antibiotics because it spreads easily in the home.

Public Health is here to help you and your family; you can contact the Communicable Disease Unit at 831-454-4114 with any questions related to whooping cough.

Additional Resources:




Contact the Communicable Disease Unit at

if you have any questions related to whooping cough.

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