Protecting children against pertussis

  • Published
  • By Capt Kimberly J. Capasso
  • 22nd Medical Operations Squadron
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is an illness that most commonly affects infants and small children. This bacterial infection begins as the common cold, displaying symptoms such as runny nose, congestion, and possibly fever.

After a couple of weeks though, a serious cough can develop. Whooping cough gets its name from the loud, inspirational [intake of breath] "whooping" sound that is made during a series of coughing fits. In infants, this sound is not always audible.

The disease is typically spread by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others. Many children get the disease from a parent, sibling, or caregiver who may not even know they are infected.

Pertussis can be most severe for infants 1 year old and younger; it can be especially dangerous for those too young to have received the vaccination. At this age, outcomes can include hospitalization and even death.

The very best way to prevent pertussis is by vaccinating your children and ensuring anyone coming in contact with young children have been vaccinated.

The Center for Disease Control recommends a series of five DTaP vaccinations for children. The DTaP vaccine protects against a combination of diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis.

According to the CDC website, the first three shots are given at 2, 4, and 6 months of age. The fourth shot is given at 15 through 18 months of age, and a fifth shot is given when a child enters school, at 4 through 6 years of age. If a 7-10 year old is not up-to-date with DTaP vaccines, a dose of Tdap should be given before the 11-12 year old checkup.

It is also recommended that pregnant women who are not up-to-date receive a dose of the vaccine during their third trimester or late second trimester. Maternal pertussis antibodies can be transferred to the newborn if the mother receives a Tdap booster during pregnancy. This can help protect the infant during the first two months of life before their first immunizations are given. It is important to ensure you receive your Tdap vaccination two weeks before coming in close contact with a newborn or young infant.

In the first half of 2012 alone, the CDC has reported over 17,000 cases nationwide, which is more than double than this time last year. There have also been 9 pertussis related deaths as of July 12, 2012.

Pertussis typically peaks every 3 to 5 years, but if the numbers continue as they have, the United States could be headed for one of its worst years in decades.

"The incidence of pertussis is increasing," Captain Michael Slogic, 22nd Medical Group pediatrician. "It's important that we immunize against it so that we protect those who are affected most severely, newborns and young infants, from getting it."

Now is the time to make sure you and your family are protected. Please contact your primary care manager or the 22nd MDG immunization clinic if you have any questions or concerns.

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