Georgians Must Take Precautions Against Whooping Cough

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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Several recently reported cases of pertussis (commonly referred to as “whooping cough”) in some Cobb County schools has prompted the Georgia Department of Human Resources (DHR) Division of Public Health (DPH) to remind the public about the dangers of the disease and what they can do to prevent it.

“Pertussis is a highly contagious disease that can occur at any age,” said Dr. Sandra Elizabeth Ford, acting director of the Division of Public Health. “One of the most effective ways to prevent the disease is to get vaccinated – whether you are a child or an adult.”

Pertussis is an infectious disease of the respiratory tract caused by bacteria found in the mouth, nose and throat of an infected person. Pertussis starts like the common cold with runny nose or congestion, sneezing and, in some instances, a mild cough or fever. But after one to two weeks, individuals begin to experience severe coughing that sounds like a “whoop” as they try to catch their breath.

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Pertussis is usually spread by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the pertussis bacteria. Infants who get pertussis are often infected by older siblings or parents who are unaware they have the disease.

While pertussis can cause serious illness in children and adults, hospitalization is rarely necessary. However, for infants and those with weakened immune systems or pre-existing breathing problems such as asthma, pertussis can be serious. The disease is rarely fatal, although fatalities have occurred in infants.

According to the DPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated. The recommended pertussis vaccine for children is called DTaP. It is a safe and effective combination vaccine that protects children against three diseases: pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus.

For maximum protection, children need five DTaP shots: the first at 2 months old, the second at 4 months old, the third at 6 months old, the fourth sometime between 15 and 18 months old, and the final shot at between 4 and 6 years old. Since protection after vaccination or disease only lasts a few years, adolescents should get a Tdap shot sometime between 11 and 12 years old. Adults should be vaccinated as well by getting Tdap, instead of their regular booster, every 10 years.

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