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Pertussis Complications

Infants and Children

Pertussis (whooping cough) can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening complications in infants and young children, especially those who are not fully vaccinated.

In infants younger than 1 year of age who get pertussis, more than half must be hospitalized. The younger the infant, the more likely treatment in the hospital will be needed. Of those infants who are hospitalized with pertussis about:

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  • 1 in 5 get pneumonia (lung infection)
  • 1 in 100 will have convulsions (violent, uncontrolled shaking)
  • Half will have apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)
  • 1 in 300 will have encephalopathy (disease of the brain)
  • 1 in 100 will die

Teens and Adults

Teens and adults can also get complications from pertussis. They are usually less serious in this older age group, especially in those who have been vaccinated. Complications in teens and adults are often caused by the cough itself. For example, you may pass out or fracture a rib during violent coughing fits.

In one study, less than 5% of teens and adults with pertussis were hospitalized. Pneumonia (lung infection) was diagnosed in 2% of those patients. The most common complications in another study of adults with pertussis were:

  • Weight loss (33%)
  • Loss of bladder control (28%)
  • Passing out (6%)
  • Rib fractures from severe coughing (4%)

Source
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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