As a parent, you want to protect your child from monsters under the bed, bullies at middle school and broken hearts in high school. But can you protect her from highly contagious childhood illnesses, such as pertussis, that pervade classrooms, playgrounds and mommy-and-me gatherings? Pertussis, better known as whooping cough, is a bacteria-induced respiratory disease that, at its worst, can cause additional health complications and even death, especially for infants. Keep reading to see how you can protect your child -- and the rest of your family -- from contracting pertussis.
Pertussis is more than a common cold
Pertussis often starts out resembling a common cold, with a runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever and a nonspecific cough. Within 1 to 2 weeks, however, it progresses to severe, rapid coughing that
empties the lungs of air and results in a child "whooping" to inhale. Infants are particularly in danger from pertussis because the disease can lead to pneumonia, apnea, seizures,
encephalopathy and even death. More than half of all infants who get pertussis must be hospitalized.
Pertussis is highly contagious
Pertussis is primarily transmitted through coughing and sneezing, and is considered to be one of the most highly contagious of childhood illnesses. Children are particularly susceptible to the
disease because schools are a hotbed for pertussis. A study in Massachusetts conducted between 2000 and 2004 indicated that 90 percent of pertussis outbreaks occurred in schools. In the same time
period, 41 percent of pertussis cases reported in 11- to 19-year-olds were identified through school outbreaks. Because the disease can show few symptoms in adolescents and adults, many people with
pertussis don't know they have it and continue to spread the disease.
Protecting your child from pertussis
Despite pertussis being highly contagious, parents can protect their children by taking preventative measures to minimize exposure and boost immunity against the disease.
Minimizing exposure can prove challenging because pertussis is so easily spread. Teaching your child to wash her hands or use antibacterial wash can lower the risk of transmission, but the best way
to protect your child and family is through vaccination.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends the DTaP vaccine series, starting at 2 months of age. The DTaP also protects against tetanus and diphtheria. Since vaccine protection
against pertussis can fade, a booster shot, called Tdap, is recommended for adolescents aged 11 to 18 (preferably at 11 or 12 years old), and for 19- to 64-year-old adults who haven't had it
Keeping every member of your family current on the pertussis vaccinations can protect them from contracting and spreading the disease.