ORLANDO - The Orange County Health Department (OCHD) is urging parents to make sure they and their children are up to date on pertussis or whooping cough vaccinations as a recent pertussis epidemic was declared in California. The best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated. In the United States, the recommended pertussis vaccine for children is called DTaP. This is a safe and effective combination vaccine that protects children against three diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. For maximum protection against pertussis, children need five DTaP shots.
“Pertussis can cause serious illness in infants, children and adults,” said Dr. Kevin M. Sherin, Director of the Orange County Health Department. “Anyone in close contact with infants should be vaccinated.” The Orange County Health Department offers the pertussis vaccine to children and adults at its immunization clinic at 832 W. Central Boulevard, Orlando, 32805.
The disease starts like the common cold, with runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and maybe mild cough or fever. But after 1–2 weeks, severe coughing begins. Infants and children with the disease cough violently and rapidly, over and over, until the air is gone from their lungs and they are forced to inhale with a loud "whooping" sound. Pertussis is most severe for babies; more than half of infants less than 1 year of age who get the disease must be hospitalized.
People with pertussis usually spread the disease by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the pertussis bacteria. Many infants who get pertussis are infected by parents, older siblings, or other caregivers who might not even know they have the disease.
Seven pertussis cases have been reported to the OCHD so far this year. Three of the seven cases were infants. All three of the infants became infected before they could receive the three primary shots necessary for immunity. This highlights the importance of vaccinating the parents of newborns and anyone who will be taking care of the child who could possibly expose them to the infection.
Vaccine protection for pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria can fade with time. Today there are boosters for adolescents and adults that contain tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (called Tdap). Pre-teens going to the doctor for their regular check-up at age 11 or 12 years should get a dose of Tdap. Adults who did not get Tdap as a pre-teen or teen should get one dose of Tdap instead of the Td booster. Getting vaccinated with Tdap is especially important for families with and caregivers of new infants.
For more information about pertussis, go to www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/pertussis/default.htm