Pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, is a disease of the respiratory tract. The name whooping cough comes from the characteristic intake of breath that follows a hacking cough. Worldwide, pertussis accounts for about 300,000 preventable deaths each year. Most of these deaths are young children, since they are much more prone to the infection than adults. Around 90% of pertussis deaths occur in developing countries, where the population does not have access to vaccines.
Childhood Vaccine Recommendations
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children receive five doses of pertussis vaccine before they begin kindergarten. The first dose should be given at 2 months, followed by doses as 4, 6, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years. The pertussis vaccine is usually provided to children in the form of DTaP. This vaccine contains appropriate doses of the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine.
While getting whooping cough is far more dangerous than receiving the vaccine, the DTaP vaccine can cause side effects. The most common side effects are fever, redness or swelling at the injection site, and soreness of the area around where the vaccine was injected. Often these side effects occur more frequently following the fourth and fifth dose. Other minor problems that can result include fussiness, tiredness, and vomiting. In very rare cases the vaccine can cause seizures, non-stop crying (for more than three hours), and an extremely high fever.
Adult Vaccine Recommendations
Until 2005, adults did not receive any booster shots for pertussis. Recently, it has been discovered that the immunity gained during childhood vaccination does not last through adulthood. Adults should already receive a Td (tetanus-diphtheria) vaccine every 10 years as a booster shot. The CDC recommends that individuals receive a Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis) booster either once as age 11 or 12, or in place of one of their Td booster shots at some point between age 19 to 64.
As in children, there are certain side effects that can occur when adults receive the pertussis booster shot. Common side effects include pain, redness, swelling, mild fever, headache, tiredness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach ache. These side effects are typically mild and do not interfere with activities. Less commonly, these side effects can require medical attention.
Who Should Not Be Vaccinated
Children who are recovering from moderate or severe illnesses should wait to be vaccinated until they recover. Any child who has had a severe reaction to a DTaP vaccine should not get another dose. If this is the case, talk to your doctor about receiving a dose of DT (diphtheria and tetanus). Children over the age of seven should never receive the DTaP vaccine.
Adults should not receive the Tdap vaccine if they have ever had a serious reaction to a dose of DTP, DTaP, DT, or Td. Tdap should not be given when an individual is recovering from a moderate or severe illness.