Whooping cough: You may need booster as vaccine fades

Physicians warn adults to protect themselves and young children

Whooping cough vaccination graphic

People who believe they’re protected against whooping cough are learning differently following recent studies. It’s becoming clear that older vaccines decline in effectiveness and not everyone is being vaccinated.

The result? Recent outbreaks of the highly contagious bacterial infection also known as pertussis.

Part of the problem is the vaccine loses strength over time. But many adults also miss the recommendation to have a booster shot every 10 years.

Vaccination calendar

  • Babies should receive a series of shots with a combination vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis starting at age 2 months.
  • In general, adults should get a booster shot every 10 years.
  • Pregnant women should get one dose of the vaccine during every pregnancy to protect baby.
  • Talk to your doctor about the right schedule for you.

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How do I know it’s whooping cough?

Because it usually starts with symptoms that mimic a cold, recognizing pertussis can be difficult until it advances. It’s most dangerous for babies, requiring hospitalization for about half those children diagnosed before their first birthday.

Early symptoms last one to two weeks and may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Low-grade fever
  • Mild, occasional cough
  • Apnea (pauses in breathing) in babies

Symptoms progress to:

  • Coughing fits followed by a “whoop” sound
  • Vomiting during or after coughing fits
  • Exhaustion

There were fewer than 2,000 cases annually in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s but that number jumped to more than 48,000 in 2012, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although the number of cases is down from that peak, it’s nowhere near the lows of earlier decades.

Risk increases over time

Up to age 7, kids have a five times higher whooping cough risk when they’re three years out from their last shot, compared to the year immediately after vaccination, according to a report published online in Pediatrics.

And kids between 7 and 11 have double the risk if they are more than six years away from their last shot, compared with less than three years after, the findings showed.

“We found children who received their vaccines and who are far away from their last vaccine were at increased risk of pertussis (whooping cough),” said lead researcher Ousseny Zerbo. He is a staff scientist in the Vaccine Study Center at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland. “As time goes by, the effectiveness starts to wane.”

Researchers hastened to point out that the vaccine remains a vital means of preventing the disease.

Risk of catching whooping cough is 13 times higher among unvaccinated children and twice as likely among kids who are behind on their shots, compared with fully vaccinated kids, the study authors said.

It’s risky to not be vaccinated, according to Jean Tejada Perez, M.D., at Sanford Aberdeen Clinic.

“Vaccinations are key for prevention,” he said. “Adults should get a booster shot every 10 years, not only to protect themselves, but to protect any babies or young children they may come in contact with.”

Researchers said the findings underscore the importance of keeping up to date on a child’s shots, and the critical need to develop new and better vaccines against whooping cough.

Adults need boosters

The CDC recommends whooping cough vaccines for people of all ages. For adults, the shot known as Tdap is recommended at least every 10 years.

“Whether you have a new grandbaby, or plan to see young family members for the holidays, it’s important to be up-to-date on your pertussis vaccination to keep everyone safe and healthy,” Dr. Tejada Perez said.

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Posted In Aberdeen, Immunizations, Internal Medicine