Parents should be aware that the bacterial infection pertussis, commonly referred to as whooping cough, is being seen at a higher rate than in previous years in the community.
A local pediatrician recommends that parents make sure their children are up to date on their immunizations. Dr. Mary Jo Kutler of Ahwatukee Pediatrics said children should have five vaccines against pertussis in total.
The usual schedule for infants is a series of four doses of DTaP given at 2, 4, 6, and 15–18 months of age. A fifth shot, or booster dose, is recommended between ages 4 and 6 years, unless the fourth dose was given late (after the fourth birthday).
Adults, who are also catching pertussis, and adolescents who have already completed their boosters have the Tdap immunization available to them. Children and adolescents who did not get a complete series of DTaP vaccines by age 7 should complete the series using a combination of Td or Tdap.
Td vaccine protects against tetanus, but the Tdap is more commonly offered and protects against both tetanus and pertussis. To protect older children and adults against pertussis, people 10 years of age and older who have already completed their primary series, should receive the Tdap vaccine if they haven’t received it already.
“Pertussis is highly contagious,” Kutler said. “As a pediatrician I am seeing it in a higher percentage of children, but there is an increasing number of cases of adults with pertussis in the community and across the nation.”
The reasons why it is more persistent now can only be inferred, but Kutler said their is a tie between the higher rate of pertussis and lower rate of immunizations by parents for their children.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing a lower immunization rate,” Kutler said. “When parents refuse the DTaP vaccine they are putting their child more at risk for exposure.”
The cough of a patient with pertussis may begin as a mild cough and progress to attacks (paroxysms) of coughing, accompanied by gagging and/or vomiting.
Some persons with pertussis make a “whoop” sound when they breath in after coughing. Not all patients with pertussis have the classic “whoop.”
Infections are treated with antibiotics, but the cough can last up to 10 weeks. Diagnosis is usually confirmed with a nasal swab with results not always immediate. Kutler also said that children under 6 months do not exhibit the same coughing symptoms as older children and adults.
Although adults are less likely than infants to become seriously ill with pertussis, Kutler says most will make repeated visits for medical care and miss work with a delay in the diagnosis for their chronic cough.
In addition, adults with pertussis frequently are a source of infection to infants with whom they have close contact.
To find out more about pertussis, contact your local primary care physician or visit the U.S. Center for Disease Control website, www.cdc.gov/Features/Pertussis.
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