Many diseases that caused serious illness and even death in the past are rare today because of routine immunizations. Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a potentially dangerous infection of the respiratory tract. It is extremely contagious and can produce a severe cough that can last for weeks and may make breathing difficult. Pertussis can lead to pneumonia and be fatal in some cases.
A vaccination against pertussis is important because of its presence in the United States. When children and infants are immunized, they are given a vaccine called DTap, an acronym for diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis. Teenagers and adults, who need a booster to maintain pertussis immunity, are given a Tdap, or tetanus and diphtheria toxoids with acellular pertussis vaccine.
A Pertussis booster is especially important for women who are considering pregnancy or who will be caring for an infant to ensure there is no exposure to pertussis before the baby is old enough to be immunized.