You may have noticed a recent public awareness campaign for the adult whooping cough vaccination. The current push for more vaccines, especially for adults, is a direct result of the nationwide increase in whooping cough outbreaks. Louisiana epidemiologists are trying to control outbreaks in the state by educating the public on the importance of the vaccine, not only for infants and children but also for adults.
Whooping cough (pertussis) is a respiratory disease marked by a high-pitched cough. The disease often seems like an ordinary cold at first and sometimes goes undiagnosed in adults. It can be dangerous in infants, however, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that most infants under 1 year old who become infected with the disease must be hospitalized. One in five gets pneumonia, and for one in 100 infants, it can be deadly.
"People don't always take a cough seriously, but pertussis can cause such severe fits of coughing it can lead to vomiting, pulled muscles and even broken ribs," says East Jefferson General Hospital infectious disease physician, Dr. Richard Witzig. "The disease can cause pneumonia and can become quite serious for infants and malnourished children."
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) recently issued a mandate requiring all birthing hospitals to educate the public on pertussis. According to DHH, whooping cough steadily declined over the past 30 years to fewer than 10 cases a year but now is on the rise again. A recent DHH report states: "There is a resurgence of pertussis in Louisiana and across the U.S. with no clear explanation for the increase." The report goes on to explain that the disease trends in two- to five-year cycles. Although immunization has significantly reduced incidents of the disease, it has not affected the cycles, suggesting the disease, while controlled, continues to spread.
"Whooping cough is an airborne, droplet-spread disease caused by bacteria called Bordetella pertussis," Witzig says. "Patients with pertussis who cough within the first three weeks of the disease are highly infectious to others in their immediate vicinity. Patients who need to be admitted to the hospital must be placed on respiratory isolation to prevent its spread to others."
The best way to protect yourself and your family from whooping cough is to get immunized. Often, people mistakenly think the need for immunizations has passed once they enter adulthood. However, parents, grandparents, teens and anyone else who will be around a new baby should get up to date on their immunizations.
The vaccine for whooping cough is called Tdap because it protects against tetanus and diphtheria as well as pertussis. Infants should receive five doses of Tdap before entering kindergarten. Most schools will not accept children who are not fully vaccinated unless they have a doctor's note. A booster shot is recommended (and sometimes required for school) between ages 11 and 12. It is also recommended that adults younger than age 65 receive a Tdap vaccine in place of a 10-year tetanus booster shot.
"Failing to vaccinate or to stay up to date on vaccinations can endanger adults and children around you," Witzig says. "You or your child may weather whooping cough without severe repercussions, but it may put the infant you held at a birthday party in the hospital."