I had whooping cough a few years ago and it’s no picnic, even as an adult. It starts like a moderate cold or flu and ends up with several weeks of a cough you won’t forget. It sounds different than any cough you’ve had or heard, thus its moniker, “whooping.”
Whooping cough (pertussis), a highly contagious bacterial respiratory infection, was widely known as a killer in the first half of the 20th century. After the vaccine was discovered in the 1940’s, the disease gradually was considered “old news” because kids in developed countries would rarely get it. Infants and children are given five different shots at 2, 4 and 6 months, and then at 15-18 months and again when they’re 4-6 years old. They should also get a booster shot at about 11 or 12.
And now, because the resistance fades, teens and adults are being encouraged to get yet another shot. Kids get the DTap and teens and adults get the TDap. (The T is for tetanus and the D is for diphtheria, which are also included in these vaccines).
Childhood is the time of greatest exposure and risk, since infants and kids can get extremely sick from pertussis. Adults rarely die from it but they do transmit it, so even if you don’t mind whooping for a while, if you’re in contact with kids or seniors, it’s smart to get the vaccine.
A study presented at an American Society for Microbiology conference by David Witt, MD, chief of infectious disease at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Rafael, Calif., suggests that the vaccine loses much of its effectiveness after just three years, a lot faster than health professionals previously thought.( More than 80% of the kids who got whooping cough in Witt’s study had been fully vaccinated). During 2014, 32,971 cases of pertussis were reported to CDC. This represents a 15% increase compared 28,639 cases reported during 2013. (There were probably more; I’m sure no one reported my case a few years ago!).
What should you remember about whooping cough and your family?
- Make sure your kids get all the recommended doses at the right ages. Teenagers may need another vaccine. (Keep accurate records of who got what and when).
- The CDC emphasizes that the vaccination is still much better than no vaccine; it reduces the severity of the illness.
- Get a TDap for yourself, for the other adults in your household and for people who are in contact with the very young and the older and oldest.
Find out more about whooping cough from the CDC (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).