Several New Jersey schools are reporting cases of whooping cough — a painful disease that can be difficult for children and even fatal for infants.

The most recent cases are in Jackson and, according to parents, Hillsborough.

What is whooping cough?

The Centers for Disease Control describes whooping cough — also known by its formal name, pertussis — as a highly contagious respiratory disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing, which often makes it hard to breathe.

“After fits of many coughs, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths which result in a ‘whooping’ sound. Pertussis can affect people of all ages, but can be very serious, even deadly, for babies less than a year old,” writes the CDC.

Symptoms are often cold-like and begin with a mild cough or fever and can include a runny nose, low-grade fever and a a mild, occasional cough.

How does it spread?

“It is spread by coughing or sneezing, and it usually starts with cold-like symptoms, maybe a cough or fever, and then after one to two weeks the coughing can become severe,” Dr. Barbara Montana, medical director of Communicable Disease Service at the New Jersey Department of Health, told New Jersey 101.5 last year.

Is it dangerous?

Whooping cough can be deadly in infants, because of pauses in breathing known as apnea.

For older children, it's more commonly a painful nuisance — but a persistent one. It's treated with antibiotics, and while a patient under treatment will cease to be contagious within a few days, the symptoms may continue for weeks or months.

The fits of coughing, vomiting and exhaustion after the coughing fits come as the disease progresses. Recovery from whooping cough is slow.

Is it common in New Jersey?

Several cases have been reported in New Jersey schools in recent months. Jackson school officials reported their second case this week; A case was confirmed in December at the McAuliffe Middle School. Parents have sent New Jersey 101.5 a letter from school officials discussing a case in Hillsborough this week as wekk. Other cases were reported at schools in Millstone, Lakewood and Freehold over the past several months. In December, Milltstone Township Schools superintendent Scott T. Felder told New Jersey 101.5 there were four confirmed or suspected cases just in that one district.

Three reported cases of whooping cough that surfaced last fall in Lakewood’s Orthodox Jewish communities appear to be related to an outbreak in Brooklyn, according to Ocean County Health Department officials.

How do I know if my child has whooping cough?

Pertussis is often mistaken for a cold in its early stages. If your child has a persistent cold, or a case of whooping cough has been reported in his school system or among other people with whom he spends time, seek medical advice from a doctor as soon as possible.

How can I prevent whooping cough?

The best prevention against whooping cough is DTap, a combination vaccine that helps protect against three diseases: diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. according to the CDC.

Tdap vaccine is recommended for all adults, teenagers, preteens and pregnant women who will be around a new baby, according to health officials. Five does of the vaccine are recommended for children 2 months to 6 years of age, and then there’s one dose recommended for people over the age of 11.

The CDC reports whooping cough vaccines are effective in 7 out of 10 people who get them within the first year, but the protection decreases over time. Only 3 or 4 people out of every 10 are protected after four years.

“Unfortunately, we know that getting sick with pertussis or getting vaccinated doesn’t provide lifelong protection, which means you can still get pertussis and pass it along to others,” Montana said.

Health officials say even if a vaccine's effectiveness has worn off over time, it can help prevent a case of whooping cough from being as severe.

In addition to getting vaccinated, proper hygiene should be followed. “Making sure people cover their cough and hand washing is also important in areas where the disease may be present,” Montana said.

Where can I get a vaccine? 

Vaccines can be obtained through private doctor's offices, or at several public health clinics or community services

Among them: The Ocean County Health Department offers Tdap vaccinations to anyone over the age of 19 every first and third Tuesday of each month between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.. No appointment is necessary. For information, call the health department at 732-341-9700, ext. 7604.

CHEMED Center for Health Education in Lakewood also offers Tdap vaccines. To schedule an appointment call CHEMED at 732-364-2144, ext. 214.

The following tool from the federal vaccine.gov can help find providers for adults.

— With reporting by Dan Alexander, David Matthau and Dianne DeOliveira