“Whoop” This is the awful high-pitched inhaling sound people can make after a burst of coughing associated with pertussis. This sound is what gives it the common name: “Whooping Cough.” It has also been called the “100-day cough” due to the duration of the cough.
For adults, getting a case of whooping cough is annoying and sometimes painful given the severity of the cough, but usually only slightly worse than the common cold, especially early on. Many adolescents and adults don’t even develop the stereotypical “whoop.” For children, especially infants, this illness can be deadly. 85% of the deaths associated with pertussis occur in infants less than 3 months of age.
The good news is that we have a vaccine for pertussis. Fortunately, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of pertussis cases since the introduction of the vaccine in the 1940’s, but we continue to see outbreaks every couple of years. Currently, California is experiencing an outbreak and there have been cases in Wisconsin as well.
The vaccine is given in a combination vaccine with diphtheria and tetanus, usually at ages 2, 4, 6 months, 12-18 months and 4-5 years. The vaccine is not fully effective until 3 doses are given, so children that are less than 6 months are at higher risk of getting the illness. Teenagers and adults tend to be those that spread the disease, because their illness is not as severe and many do not even know that pertussis is what is causing their illness. They also have waning immunity from the vaccines they received as a young child. Fortunately in 2005, a booster vaccine was developed.
This vaccine should be used in place of one tetanus booster. It contains tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis (Tdap). Anyone that is around small children, especially new parents, should make sure they have received the Tdap vaccine. It is recommended that any new mother that is not immunized should receive it during the immediate postpartum period. If she is around children less than 12 months old during her pregnancy, she should receive it during the pregnancy.
If you have questions about your or your child(ren)’s immunization status, please be sure to discuss them with your primary care provider.