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Public Health - Seattle & King County

Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

Pertussis (Whooping Cough) is at high levels in King County and Washington state. Get protected!
Whooping cough is a very contagious cough illness. It is spread through droplets from the mouth and nose when a person with pertussis coughs, sneezes, or talks. Young infants are at highest risk for severe illness, hospitalization and death from whooping cough.

Vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others
Whooping cough vaccine prevents disease and saves lives. Before routine childhood whooping cough vaccination there were on average over 200,000 cases of whooping cough and 4,000 deaths EACH YEAR in the US. Whooping cough cases and deaths have been reduced by over 90% through widespread use of routine whooping cough vaccination. Despite this success, whooping cough has not been eliminated and has been increasing in recent years, reminding us of the importance of keeping vaccination rates up.

Be sure all children, teens & adults are up-to-date with whooping cough vaccine. Older children, teens and adults who aren't up-to-date on their vaccine can spread the infection to infants, pregnant women and others.

Whooping cough vaccine is available through many health care providers and pharmacies
Talk to your health care provider to make sure your whooping cough vaccine is up-to-date. Many local pharmacies also offer whooping cough vaccine and it is covered by most insurance plans.

If you don't have insurance or can't afford to pay for the vaccine:
You can get low-cost whooping cough booster shots for adults at some local QFC pharmacies (call ahead to find out if a QFC near you has it). Vaccines are offered at low cost for children under 19 through health care providers participating in the state's Childhood Vaccine Program.

If you are a family health or primary care client at a Public Health Center, you can also get low-cost whooping cough vaccines for children and adults there. Some community health centers also have supplies of the low-cost vaccine. Call ahead to find out if your provider has it in stock. When you get a low-cost vaccine, health care providers and pharmacies may charge a fee up to $15.60. (In comparison, the normal cost of the Tdap booster shot without insurance is from $60-$100.) If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask to have the fee waived.

If you need information on health insurance or help finding a healthcare provider, call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or visit

Resources for the general public

Young parents and infant child

Pertussis facts
Also available in Chinese, Korean, Russian, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese

Factsheet for patients with pertussis and their close contacts
What to do if you have pertussis

Pertussis — what you need to know, CDC

Pertussis vaccination information, CDC
Before routine childhood pertussis vaccination there were on average over 200,000 cases of pertussis and 4000 deaths EACH YEAR in the US. Pertussis cases and deaths have been reduced by over 90% through widespread use of routine pertussis vaccination. A summary of pertussis vaccine recommendations is also available.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis) vaccine flyer
For posting and distribution.

Whooping Cough flyer for pregnant women
Patient education flyer with information on how pregnant women can protect themselves and their babies from pertussis.

Resources for health care providers

Doctor with young patient and mother

Summary of pertussis outbreak clinical diagnosis and treatment guidelines

Issue Brief — Pertussis in Infants
Summarizes local epidemiology and prevention recommendations

Vaccine recommendations (CDC):

Pertussis clinical information (CDC):


Health alerts:

Resources for schools, early learning, child care, and camp programs

Classroom of young students

Resources for businesses and organizations

cubicle of office workers

Pertussis in King County

Pertussis, also known as "whooping cough," is a toxin-mediated disease caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. It is spread primarily by respiratory droplets (droplet spread) produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes The disease is of particular concern in infants because they have higher rates of pneumonia, hospitalization, and death compared with older children and adults. Pertussis vaccination reduces the frequency and severity of disease. However, the protective effects of natural pertussis infection and pertussis vaccine wane with time. Unrecognized infections in older children and adults are the most common source of pertussis transmission to infants in the community. The primary strategy to prevent severe pertussis among infants is maternal vaccination during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy.

Purpose of surveillance:

  • To prevent transmission of pertussis to infants and other persons.
  • To identify outbreaks and implement disease control measures including vaccination and early recognition, testing, and treatment of cases.

Pertussis Case Data

Local epidemiology:

A record-breaking pertussis epidemic occurred in King County and Washington state beginning in December of 2011. In 2012, 770 cases of pertussis were reported in King County, compared to 98 cases reported in 2011. Children under the age of one accounted for 6% of the cases and 76% of the hospitalizations. There was one death reported in an infant who met the suspect pertussis case definition.

Peaks in pertussis activity are typically observed every three to five years. Typically there are 400 to 1,000 cases reported in Washington state. In 2012, 4,920 cases were reported in Washington state compared to 965 in 2011.