Since the 1980s, whooping cough has been on the rise, especially in teens and babies. That’s just one factor experts considered when they recently expanded the list of who should get a booster shot against the disease.
Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes unstoppable coughing and difficulty breathing. A “whooping” sound is commonly heard when a person with pertussis is coughing or struggling to breathe and symptoms can last up to six weeks.
Whooping cough can spread very easily through the air. When a person with pertussis sneezes or coughs, tiny droplets containing the bacteria are spread and can easily be passed from person to person.
People of all ages are susceptible to whooping cough, but infants and children are especially at risk for severe medical complications as a result of whooping cough.
“Because whooping cough is spread so easily, it is important for anyone who has a lot of contact with children or infants to take precautions against it,” says Dr. Stephanie Ring, OB/GYN, at Rose Women’s Care. “In its early stages, it can look like a common cold, so making sure you’re vaccinated, and taking general precautions like washing your hands frequently and staying away from people who are sick can go a long way.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines for the Tdap vaccine. Like the DTaP shot given to infants and young children, this combination shot protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis in older children and adults.
According to the CDC, Tdap coverage is 56 percent among adolescents and less than 6 percent among adults.
Tdap Guidelines Expand Shot’s Reach
A few things haven’t changed. Pre-teens and teens should still get a dose of Tdap to boost their immunity. Adults who didn’t get one during youth can also roll up their sleeves.
However, the CDC and AAP now recommend a dose of Tdap for these additional groups:
- Health care workers
- Children ages 7 to 10 who haven’t received a diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine before, or whose vaccine records are incomplete
- Adults of any age who may come in contact with infants 12 months or younger, including grandparents or caregivers
- Adults age 65 or older who haven’t received it before can also get the shot, even if they don’t have regular contact with children.
Tdap is also recommended for pregnant women. But always talk with your doctor first.
“For women who are pregnant, the Tdap vaccine is usually given after 28 weeks of pregnancy,” said Dr. Ring. “Not only does it protect the pregnant woman against whooping cough, but there is some passive immunity transferred to the fetus, and enhanced immunity transferred through breast milk after the baby is born.”
Pertussis Is Most Severe in Infants
Vaccination remains the best way to ward off whooping cough. You can also protect your baby by keeping her away from people who are coughing or have other cold symptoms.
About half of infants younger than 1 who get pertussis end up in the hospital. Talk with your doctor if you or your child have a severe cough or cold symptoms that don’t clear up after one to two weeks.