Pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, is contagious disease often thought to be related to infants. However, there have been an increased number of cases of whooping cough among adolescents, leading many to wonder about the efficacy of a whooping cough vaccine and whether booster shots are needed to protect against the disease.
What Is Whooping Cough?
Whooping cough (pertussis) is a bacterial disease that causes violent and uncontrollable coughing episodes. The name comes from the “whoop” noise that is heard when an infected individual tries to take a breath. Other symptoms include runny nose, slight fever and diarrhea. These symptoms develop about a week after infection, while coughing episodes begin about 10 to 12 days after that.
Whopping cough is highly contagious and is easily spread from person to person. It can affect people of any age, but it is especially harmful to infants, in which whooping cough can lead to permanent disability or even death.
Whooping Cough Vaccine Basics
Whooping cough vaccine is actually a diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccination (DTaP), which protects against pertussis infection along with diphtheria and tetanus; it is one of the recommended childhood immunizations. The vaccination is given in a series of five shots, usually at the ages of 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months and 4-6 years. A booster is then recommended around age 11. The vaccine may cause mild side effects, such as pain or soreness in the injection site and a low-grade fever. To learn more about immunizations that are recommended or required for children, read School Immunization Requirements From Preschool To College.
Another whooping cough vaccine called Tdap also protects against pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus. However, it contains smaller amounts of diphtheria and pertussis proteins and is therefore less likely to cause side effects. This vaccine is recommended for people ages 11-64 who have not previously received immunization. Pregnant women should also receive this vaccine (if they haven’t already) late in their second trimester or during their third trimester.
The vaccine is extremely effective in protecting against whooping cough. Before the vaccine was introduced, about 8,000 people died in the United States. every year from the disease. Today, only about 10 children die each year from whooping cough.
July 2012 Outbreak
In July 2012, health officials reported that a recent outbreak of whooping cough was on track to become the most severe in over 50 years. As of July 22, 2012, the International News Network reported that the number of cases of whooping cough in the U.S. had risen to about 18,000 (more than double than at the same time the previous year) and nine deaths had resulted. The two states most significantly affected in the outbreak were Wisconsin and Washington.
One possible cause of the outbreak might have possibly ben the waning protection offered by the vaccine years after it has been administered. This cause has been connected to the whooping cough spike in children ages 10, 13 and 14, which may mean that the vaccine is wearing off earlier than expected and before children have received their booster shot. These children were likely to have received a newer version of the vaccine, which was introduced in 1997. The prior vaccine used whole cell parts of killed pertussis bacteria, while the newer vaccine only used acellular bacteria pieces. The new vaccine was introduced due to concerns that there may be possible neurological side effects associated with the prior vaccine.
Another major concern in the outbreak was the fact that adults are much less likely to be vaccinated, making them more likely to spread the disease. According to ABC News, about 84 percent of toddlers in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, but only about 8 percent of adults have received the vaccine. Adults (especially those spending time about infants, such as pregnant women and new grandparents) are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated if they have not been already.
Do I Need A Booster?
With the connection between the vaccine wearing off and the outbreak in whooping cough cases, many people are wondering whether they need a booster shot to protect themselves and their families. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia offers the following recommendations for who should receive the whooping cough vaccine in light of the outbreak:
- Children between the ages of 7 and 10 who have not had all of their recommended doses of DTaP.
- Adults who spend time around infants, including those ages 65 and up.
- Adults ages 65 and up who have not had Tdap before. A dose of Tdap can be received in place of their next tetanus booster (also known as Td).
In addition, it’s important for parents to ensure that their child receives the recommended DTaP vaccination, including all five shots in the series (preferably at the recommended ages).
A whooping cough vaccine is the most important step in protecting you and your family from pertussis infection. It’s also important to watch out for pertussis symptoms and to get medical treatment for this disease if you suspect that you or your child has it. Be especially vigilant about these symptoms appearing in infants younger than 18 months – if infected with the disease, they will require constant supervision to ensure that their breathing does not stop during a coughing episode.