A patient asked, “My kids were immunized against Pertussis (or whooping
cough) years ago, so are they protected from any future outbreaks?”
Pertussis is a serious bacterial disease in infants and children. We now
know that immunity wears off in adolescents and young adults, which allows
high school students to get pertussis, and spread it to parents, grandparents,
and young susceptible children.
In infants and young children who have no immunity to pertussis, whooping
cough can lead to airway obstruction, critical illness or death. The World
Health Organization (WHO) reports an estimated 50 million cases and 300,000
deaths a year from this illness. Adolescents and young adults do not get
the “whoop” sound to their cough; instead they get fever and
a dry cough, which may make them hack until they vomit or pass out.
The disease in infants and children may last several weeks to months. It
is characterized by spasms of uncontrollable coughing ending in a “whoop”,
and the face may turn red or purple. In adults, the disease is known as
the “100 day cough.”
Pertussis is very contagious and is on the rise. It is recommended that
young adults get a Tdap shot because the new pertussis vaccine in the
Tdap shot increases the level of protection. It is very safe and should
help reduce the number of infant deaths from whooping cough. Children
who never received any doses of DTaP vaccine face odds of having whooping
cough at least eight times higher than children who received all 5 doses
of the vaccine.
I recommend everyone get a Tdap booster sometime between ages 11-18, after
they have completed the primary series of DTaP. Adults over 19 years of
age should get a boost of Td every 10 years.