5 things to know about whooping cough
Once common in childhood, whooping cough — a serious bacterial lung infection — became a thing of the past beginning in the 1940s, thanks to effective vaccines. But a series of whooping cough outbreaks in recent years has alarmed public health officials, who discovered that instead of a one-time shot, the latest vaccine requires boosters throughout your lifetime.
According to Vicki Greenberg, a nurse practitioner and instructor in the University of Phoenix nursing program, here are five reasons to consider getting a whooping cough vaccine:
Even healthy adults are at risk.
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a potentially dangerous — even fatal —infection for everyone. It’s highly contagious and brings on uncontrollable, violent coughing. “Pertussis can cause seizures, brain damage, broken ribs due to excessive coughing, respiratory failure and even death,” Greenberg says.
Newborns aren’t immune.
While ideally everyone should receive pertussis boosters at least once a decade, Greenberg stresses that it’s especially important for parents and close family members of newborns who haven’t been vaccinated yet or haven’t had their full round of shots.
“Because babies aren’t immune until after the third dose of the vaccine, it’s important to build a protective immunity cocoon around that baby,” she explains, and that includes parents, siblings, grandparents and anyone else expected to be in close contact with a newborn. Pregnant women, child care providers and health care workers should also be vaccinated.
Not all tetanus shots include the pertussis vaccine.
Today’s whooping cough vaccines are administered with two others, tetanus and diphtheria, in a vaccine known as DTaP — short for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis — for children under 7, or Tdap for adolescents and adults. “The pertussis vaccine is attached to tetanus and diphtheria because we need frequent boosters of all three,” Greenberg explains.
However, just because you got a tetanus shot recently doesn’t mean it covered pertussis. “Tetanus shots are sometimes given alone, so check with your [health care] provider to see if you still need a pertussis and diphtheria booster,” Greenberg says, noting there is no harm in getting a second dose against tetanus in Tdap.
Potential side effects are minimal.
Injection-site redness and mild flu-like symptoms are the most common reactions to the vaccine, Greenberg says. “The risks of whooping cough are far greater than the risks of [vaccine] side effects,” she adds, noting that allergies to the shot are extremely rare.
Once is not enough.
If you don’t recall getting a whooping cough shot since childhood, chances are you need a booster, Greenberg stresses. “Adults and adolescents will begin to lose their immunity to pertussis starting around age 11,” she says. “You should get your [Tdap] shot every 10 years, or every five for tetanus protection due to injury.”
If you have a primary care provider, you can obtain Tdap boosters there, as well as at many walk-in clinics and pharmacies. Keeping your whooping cough immunity current is key for public health, she adds.