Pertussis is a highly contagious illness of the respiratory mucous membrane. It’s marked by a series of short, violent coughs sometimes followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like whoop.
A type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis causes this infectious disease. The bacteria attach to the cilia (tiny, hair-like extensions) that line the upper respiratory system. Bordetella pertussis toxins (poisons) damage the cilia and cause airways to swell.
After the introduction of a pertussis vaccine in the 1940s, there was a dramatic reduction in reported cases each year in the U.S. Current statistics show a slow increase of cases each year since the 1980s because of “waning immunity” in adults and adolescents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 20,000 cases in the U.S. in 2015.
Why is it important to prevent pertussis?
- This illness can be fatal, especially for infants in the first few months of life who have not yet received all their vaccinations.
- The violent bouts of coughing can last for several months causing soreness and pain in the ribs, combined with the constant interruption of getting a restful sleep.
- As a highly contagious disease, adults who may not have a severe cough because they have “partial immunity,” can easily infect more susceptible infants and children.
"Everyone should get vaccinated. The cough due to pertussis can last weeks or months -- some refer to it as the ’cough of 100 days,’ so anyone who has a persistent cough should be evaluated,'"' says Jeffrey Kahn M.D., division director of Infectious Disease at Children’s Health℠.
Here are 5 reasons why adults and children should get the pertussis vaccination:
- It can save your child’s life.
- Your own immunization can prevent you from spreading it to others you care about.
- Immunizations can save your family time and money.
- In general, immunizations help protect future generations.
- Vaccines have a great track record for being safe and effective.
The CDC recommends the DTaP vaccine for children, which is a combination vaccine that protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. The protection is delivered as a series of five shots, which are given at 2, 4 and 6 months of age; between 15 and 18 months; and before a child enters school at age 4-6 years. Adults, including pregnant women, should receive a one-time pertussis booster of DTaP, which will also provide protection against diphtheria and tetanus.
Learn more about why vaccinations are important for your child and find a recommended immunization schedule.
You are now subscribed to the Children's Health Family Newsletter.