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Adults Need Whooping Cough Booster Shot

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Many people may think of whooping cough as a disease of the past – something eradicated generations ago. However, the number of cases reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that whooping cough is still very much a public health concern; health experts estimate that up to 600,000 cases occur each year in adults alone.

Today, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) announces the launch of “Vaccination Matters: Help Protect Families from Whooping Cough,” a public health initiative about the importance of whooping cough vaccination for adolescents and adults.

A recent national survey revealed that more than three-quarters of adults (76 percent) didn’t know or didn’t think that whooping cough remains widespread in the United States. Many adults (61 percent) are not even aware that there is a vaccine for whooping cough.

“These survey results, along with CDC data and reports of whooping cough outbreaks, demonstrate the need to provide the public with more information about whooping cough and how to help prevent it,” said Ted Epperly, MD, FAAFP, president, the American Academy of Family Physicians. “For protection against whooping cough, health experts including the CDC and the AAFP recommend that most adolescents and adults get a single dose of the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis) vaccine to replace Td (tetanus and diphtheria toxoids).”

Whooping Cough Can Be Serious

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, can have a significant impact on a person’s health if contracted. A highly contagious respiratory disease, whooping cough can include a persistent, hacking cough severe enough to cause vomiting and even break ribs. The illness may last for up to three months or more, and may lead to pneumonia, hospitalization and missed work or school days.

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People with whooping cough may not be aware they have it and can spread it to others, including infants and children. Babies who have not received all of their shots for whooping cough are especially vulnerable to complications.

Vaccines Are Not Just For Babies and New Parents

Protection against whooping cough wears off approximately five to 10 years after completion of childhood vaccination, leaving adolescents and adults susceptible to whooping cough. In the survey, the majority of adults (72 percent) were unsure or didn’t know this was possible.

While the survey found that most adults (73 percent) believed they were up-to-date on their vaccinations, the CDC estimates that only 2.1 percent of adults received a Tdap vaccine between 2005 and 2007. Yet, both the CDC and the AAFP recommend that most teens and adults get a single dose of the Tdap booster vaccine to replace Td for continued protection against whooping cough if they have not been previously vaccinated with Tdap or if their shots are not up to date. The Tdap vaccine is a one-time booster shot.

“People should talk with their doctor about getting up to date with the recommended vaccinations, including Tdap. This can be important for their health, and the health of their family and community to help reduce future whooping cough outbreaks,” Epperly said.

Even though outbreaks still occur, people may not know how whooping cough may affect them or what they can do about it. For Mark Judd, 47, South Bend, Ind., the experience was particularly eye-opening.

“When I caught whooping cough, I had no idea the disease was still around. It was much worse than any cold or cough I’d ever had. There were times when the coughing brought me to my knees and left me gasping for my next breath,” Judd said.

Family physicians offer expert information on whooping cough vaccination for adolescents and adults. The AAFP encourages adults to talk to their physician about whooping cough vaccination and the Tdap vaccine.