Whooping Cough Returns: Do You Need A Booster Shot?

Whooping cough, that childhood scourge that seemed to be wiped out when vaccines were introduced in the 1940s, has made a surprising return, and a federal panel wants all adults, including those over 65, to get booster shots.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year nine out of every 100,000 Americans get whooping cough — also known as pertussis — and while that is significantly smaller than before the vaccine was introduced, the number has been steadily rising for the past two decades.

Washington state recently announced that whooping cough had reached “epidemic levels” there, with the CDC reporting 2,325 cases of pertussis in the state through June 9, compared to 171 during the same time period in 2011.

In 2010, whooping cough infected 9,000 people and killed 10 infants in California, in the worst outbreak in the state in 60 years.

The problem, new research suggests, is that the vaccine, which protects against tetanus and diptheria as well as pertussis, wears off by the pre-teen years.

After California’s outbreak, the state passed a law requiring students in 7th through 12th grade to get what’s called the Tdap booster shot to bolster their protection.

Newborns and infants are most at risk for catching whooping cough because they have not yet been immunized, which is why it’s important for grandparents or caregivers in close contact with babies to get a booster shot. The CDC recommends that adults get the Tdap booster at least two weeks before coming into close contact with an infant.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial disease spread by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others. It starts out like a common cold, with runny nose or congestion and maybe a mild cough or fever, but as it progresses, severe coughing attacks begin that often end with a high-pitched whooping sound as the child gasps for breath.

Whooping cough is most severe for babies, according to the CDC. More than half of infants younger than a year who get the disease must be hospitalized.

Health officials also believe whooping cough is under-reported in older adults, perhaps because the illness can be hard to distinguish from other cough ailments, CNN reported.

Adults with whooping cough don’t have that tell-tale “whoop” sound that young children get because adults have larger airways. In adults, the cough is dry, hacking and long-lasting, which is why anyone with a persistent cough should get checked.

This blog post was originally published on April 11, 2012

Photo credit: whattoexpect.com