There seems to be a national outbreak of whooping cough, known medically as pertussis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta answers some very important questions about whooping cough and the whooping cough vaccine on its website at www.cdc.gov.
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection that initially resembles an ordinary cold. However, it may turn more serious, particularly in infants. Whooping cough is most contagious before the coughing starts. The best way to prevent it is through vaccinations. The childhood vaccine is called DTaP. The whooping cough booster vaccine for adolescents and adults is called Tdap. Both protect against whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria.
According to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, for teens and adults, pertussis can:
- Look like the common cold.
- Show up as a cough that gets worse, especially at night.
- Last many weeks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a pdf file that talks extensively about the whooping cough vaccine. Below are a few major talking points that may concern parents in Atlanta. For a complete list of questions and answers about the whooping cough vaccine, go to www.cdc.gov.
- How is the whooping cough vaccine given? The DTaP and Tdap vaccines are given as a shot in the muscle.
- What kind of vaccine is it? DTaP and Tdap vaccines are “inactivated” vaccines. Inactivated vaccines do not contain live bacteria or virus and cannot reproduce, which is why multiple doses are needed to produce immunity.
- Who should get this vaccine? All infants should receive DTaP vaccine as part of their routine immunization unless they have a medical reason not to. Persons 10 years and older should receive Tdap vaccine in place of a one-time routine booster dose of adult Td vaccine. Women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth should be given a one-time dose of Tdap to protect their newborn. Because other adults who have close contact with infants also pose a risk of spreading pertussis to the infant, family members and other caregivers of new infants should receive Tdap vaccine. Tdap vaccine is also recommended for healthcare personnel in hospitals and ambulatory care settings who have direct patient contact, especially those working with infants, regardless of when they received their previous dose of Td vaccine.
- How many doses of DTaP vaccine are required?? The usual schedule for infants is a series of four doses given at two, four, six, and 15-18 months of age. A fifth dose, or booster, is recommended at 4-6 years of age, unless the fourth dose was given late (after the fourth birthday). All adolescents and adults younger than age 65 years should receive a one-time dose of Tdap.
- Who recommends this vaccine??The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) all recommend this vaccine.
- How safe is this vaccine?? Most children have no serious reactions from this combined vaccine. The most common reactions are local reactions at the injection site, such as soreness, redness, and swelling, especially after the fourth or fifth dose. Other possible reactions may include fussiness, mild fever, loss of appetite, tiredness, and vomiting. The use of the more purified DTaP instead of the whole cell DTP has decreased these mild reactions substantially. Tdap is a new vaccine but trials have shown it to be safe.
- What side effects have been reported with this vaccine?? About 20%-40% of children have some local reaction such as pain, redness, or swelling after the first three doses of DTaP. Such local reactions seem to be more frequent after the fourth and/or fifth doses. A temperature of 101° F or higher is reported in 3%-5% of DTaP recipients. Less common reactions (e.g., persistent crying, higher fever, febrile seizure) are rare and generally occur in fewer than 1 in 10,000 doses. If a child has a medical reason not to receive the pertussis vaccine, they can and should still be vaccinated against diphtheria and tetanus with DT (pediatric) vaccine. The most frequently reported side effects following vaccination with Tdap are headache, generalized body aches, and tiredness.
- How effective is this vaccine?? In general, inactivated vaccines are not as effective in producing immunity as are live vaccines. In studies of the pertussis vaccine, children who received three or four doses were 80%-85% less likely to develop pertussis than unvaccinated children. Tdap vaccine is believed to be similar in effectiveness and duration of immunity as pediatric DTaP vaccines.
So, what should a parent in Atlanta do about the current outbreak of whooping cough? If you’re concerned whether your child is properly vaccinated, a quick call to the pediatrician is in order. If you’ve had a cough or think you have been around someone who has, health officials say it’s better to be safe than sorry. The vaccine is offered free of charge at every health department in Georgia, even if you don’t have health insurance. You can also protect yourselves by washing your hands frequently, cover your mouth with tissue when you sneeze or cough and avoid contact with high-risk populations if symptoms occur. The most at risk population include babies younger than two months old, young children who have not had their five doses of the vaccine before age six, and any adult, child or teen who has not gotten a T-DAP booster.
As of today, there have been 46 cases of confirmed cases of whooping cough in the state of Georgia. So far, the southwest section of Georgia has seen the biggest spike in whooping cough cases. The state of California is currently experiencing an epidemic of pertussis, and health officials are recommending those who need it to get the whooping cough/pertussis vaccine.
Sources: CDC.gov, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and WALB
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