Yes, it's true: Pertussis, otherwise known whooping cough, is a vaccine-preventable disease that still occurs in schools.

Some people are shocked to find out that pertussis (also known as "whooping cough") is still around. Indeed, the DTaP vaccine (diptheria, tetanus,and pertussis) is supposed to prevent this highly contagious illness from occuring. But pertussis still exists, and if a case hits your child's school, there are some things you need to know.

What Are the Symptoms of Pertussis?

Pertussis is a bacterial infection that spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Initial symptoms are similar to that of a regular cold, but instead of improving with time, the supposed "cold" gets much worse. Pertussis is characterized by severe coughing spells that may make a person vomit, turn blue, pass out, or even crack a rib. The disease is called "whooping cough" because of the horrible whooping sound the cougher makes when trying to catch his or her breath.

Infants with pertussis may cough less than other age groups, but the risk of choking and sleep apnea is high. If you think your baby may have been exposed to pertussis, don't delay: see a doctor right away.

Pertussis Is Highly Contagious

If pertussis strikes your child's school, you will be notified by health officials. Measures should be taken by school administration and custodial staff to disinfect all surfaces where germs may exist.

Any incidence of pertussis is taken very seriously because, along with being highly contagious, it is potentially fatal.

Most people will not contract pertussis because they have been vaccinated. Infants and young children who have not received all recommended doses of the vaccine are most susceptible; in fact, most pertussis-related fatalities reported in the United States are in infants under the age of twelve months.

How Is Pertussis Treated?

Pertussis is treated with antibiotics. In severe cases, a person with this disease will need to be hospitalized. Infants with pertussis may require around-the-clock monitoring. If you hear your child making whooping noises after he coughs, or if your infant exhibits coughing/choking/apnea symptoms, don't try to treat the problem with over-the-counter medicines. See a doctor right away.

What About the Vaccine? Doesn't It Work?

According to the CDC, the DTaP vaccine should be given at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years. A booster called the Tdap should be given between ages 11-18, ideally before the age of 12. These vaccines usually provide enough protection against the disease, but their effectiveness wears off with time. Consult your doctor to find out if you are eligible to receive the booster shot. Protecting yourself from pertussis is especially important if you work with young children and infants under the age of twelve months.

Whooping Cough Happens

Researchers don't know for certain why children still come down with whooping cough. We do know that the disease tends to cycle and peak approximately every five years. Protect yourself and your family from this potentially fatal disease by getting proper nutrition, the DTaP and Tdap vaccines, and other preventative medical care.