It’s National Infant Immunization Week, which serves as a good reminder for parents and all adults to check with their doctors to make sure that their pertussis vaccination, as well as all recommended immunizations, are up to date.
Pertussis, a highly contagious respiratory disease known as whooping cough, is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. The disease is usually spread by coughing or sneezing, or when sharing breathing space with someone who has it. The cough can last up to 10 weeks or longer. The disease may cause serious illness, and can even be life-threatening, especially in babies.
Approximately half of the babies who are younger than 1 and have whooping cough need to be hospitalized.
In 2015, 20,762 cases of whooping cough (and 6 deaths) in the United States were reported to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of this number, 2,709 cases occurred in children younger than 1 year. Worldwide, there are an estimated 16 million cases of pertussis and some 195,000 deaths annually.
There are currently two vaccines for whooping cough, and they are effective against Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis. DTaP is licensed for children up to 6 years of age. One dose is to be administered at 2, 4, 6, 15-18 months and again at 4-6 years. Additionally, a single dose of the Tdap vaccine is recommended for people ages 11 through 64.
So why are we still seeing whooping cough in the population when effective vaccines exist? There are several reasons. First, it is thought that there may be a waning vaccine immunity which takes place over time in adults who had been immunized as children. Babies, especially those younger than 6 months of age who have not yet built up vaccine immunity, can be infected by older siblings, parents, or caregivers who might not even know that they have the disease. For this reason, it is very important that pregnant women, healthcare providers and caregivers of children younger than 1 year of age be vaccinated with Tdap. It is possible that vaccinated children and adults may still contract pertussis, however, the disease is typically much less severe in vaccinated people.
Make sure to get vaccinated, and protect yourselves, your families, and the community from vaccine preventable diseases.