Whooping cough seems like an archaic illness. But recently, whooping cough (pronounced HOOP-ing cough) cases have brought many in to see the doctor. In the state of Washington alone last April, the cases reached epidemic levels. It’s no wonder, either, with a full 92% of adults no longer inoculated against the disease - many Americans don’t even realize that a new booster shot exists. And if said adults catch the disease, they can easily pass it along to newborns they come in contact with, who can die from it.
Most people don’t think about the consequences about contracting pertussis (whooping cough’s other name). When it becomes prevalent in a community, people often forget how to protect others - and themselves. When it is eradicated, all the preventative measures are soon forgotten. Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, states, “That’s really the case with so many vaccine preventable diseases — when we’re not seeing them every day we forget about them. But it’s really important that people know this one is spreading all around the country, that we have vaccines and that most adults haven’t gotten vaccinated yet and really do need to.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests the following facts you should know about whooping cough:
1. Getting properly vaccinated will protect you.
Whooping cough, or pertussis, can be prevented if you get vaccinated. Before pertussis vaccines became widely available in the United States in the 1940s, approximately 200,000 children would fall ill with whooping cough, and about 9,000 would die each year from it. These days, only 10,000 - 25,000 cases are reported, with only 10 - 20 resulting in deaths.
Pertussis vaccines are available to those of any age and highly recommended by physicians. Infants and kids should get five doses of DTaP for the best protection. Doses are given at 2, 4, and 6 months, at 15 - 18 months, and again at 4 - 6 years. Booster doses of Tdap is available and given to pre-teens at 11 or 12 years of age. If you are an adolescent or adult that did not get a dose of Tdap as a preteen, it is recommended that you get one dose. Getting Tdap is imperative for pregnant women and anyone caring for an infant. You can get the Tdap booster no matter when you got your tetanus shot - you don’t have to wait. You can also get it even if you were vaccinated as a child, or have been sick with whooping cough in the past.
2. You must protect infants
Getting pertussis is riskiest for babies - they can have severe complications from it and even die. Over half of the infants that get whooping cough (under 1 year of age) are hospitalized, and 1 or 2 in 100 dies.
Pregnant women must get vaccinated with Tdap during their third or late second trimester. When you get Tdap while pregnant, “maternal pertussis antibodies” will go to the newborn, which will most likely give it protection against whooping cough later in life.
3. There is no Lifetime Protection From Vaccine or Infection
If you've been sick with pertussis or have had a pertussis vaccine, that doesn't mean that you are protected now, years later, as an adult. The vaccines are great, but they’re not perfect. They offer high levels of protection within the first two years of being vaccinated, but protection decreases over time, which is known as a waning immunity. Natural infection may only protect you for a few years as well.
4. Vaccinations Do Prevent Severe Diseases
If you do get the vaccination and still get pertussis, you will be less likely to have a severe infection. For those who have been vaccinated, in many cases, the cough won’t last as long; cough fits, whooping, and vomiting after coughing doesn't happen as often, and less children will have sleep apnea, cyanosis, and throwing-up episodes.
5. Reported Cases are Growing
The overall trend, since the early 1980s, is an increase in whooping cough cases. Whooping cough is cyclical in nature, and it peaks in disease every 3 - 5 years. Over the past few decades, peaks have gotten higher and cases have been going up. The increased number of cases can be explained in several ways: increased awareness, better reporting, improved diagnostic tests, waning immunity, and greater bacteria circulation.