Whooping Cough – Adults To Young Children

Whooping Cough is caused by bacteria called Bordatella Pertussis which produces a severe upper respiratory tract infection in unvaccinated children with a severe cough and “whooping “sound. The cough is so severe that they stop eating, breathing and surviving. There have been over 100 deaths of infants in Texas and California this year due to whooping cough. The disease can be prevented by immunizing children with a series of shots beginning at 2 months.

Most of those reading this article had the DPT shots as children and expect to be immune to whooping cough forever.  Recent studies have shown that our immunity wears out as we reach middle age. Adults can catch a form of whooping cough with a severe bronchitis which produces a prolonged cough without the classic “whooping” sound children exhibit. In most cases the adults and their doctor have no idea they have whooping cough.

If not treated with antibiotics the bronchitis lasts for months and they can spread the infection for months after the symptoms resolve.  The adults have no idea they are still infectious.  If they come in contact with children who have not completed their vaccination series, or who just didn’t mount an immune response, those children can get the life threatening whooping cough disease.   The disease is passed from well meaning adults to susceptible children. It passes from parents and grandparents to infants as well as from teachers and caregivers to infants.   There is no simple out- patient laboratory test to distinguish simple adult viral upper respiratory tract infection with bronchitis from the whooping cough variant.

The best way to prevent giving this disease to young children and, infants in particular, is to receive a booster vaccination of Tdap. The Center for Disease Control is suggesting that every 7 to ten years all adults receive a tetanus and diphtheria booster.  One of those vaccinations should be the Tdap version.  Originally Tdap was limited to 45 – 60 year olds, but last week the CDC said it is safe for all adults and seniors.  Protect your children and grandchildren against the whooping cough epidemic. Ask your physician about getting Tdap.