Pertussis (whooping cough) is a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract that initially causes cold-like symptoms that quickly develop into violent, repeated coughing that empties the lungs of air to the extent that the person has to "whoop" to breathe. Pertussis is easily spread through personal contact, sneezing, coughing and touching objects contaminated with the disease. Adolescents are especially at risk for pertussis because most outbreaks start in middle or high school settings. These kids can bring the disease home and infect younger siblings and parents just as parents can contract pertussis and infect their children.
Vaccinations for pertussis begin in infancy with a series of shots of the DTaP vaccine, which also protects against tetanus and diptheria. Immunity to pertussis begins to wane when vaccinated children reach adolescence. A booster vaccination called Tdap is recommended at around 11 or 12 years old to boost immunity to pertussis as well as tetanus and diptheria. Adults 19 to 64 years old also should get the booster vaccination if they haven't received it prior.
Complications of pertussis include pneumonia, apnea, seizure, encephalopathy and even death, especially in infants. Vaccination against the disease reduces the risk of children and adults getting pertussis as well as suffering the related complications. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 150,000 cases of pertussis were reported annually before the vaccines, compared to only 25,000 pertussis cases in 2005. When the DTaP series is given according to the recommended schedule, it protects 80 to 85 percent of the children who receive it. Booster doses of Tdap will continue to prevent pertussis in adolescents and adults.
As parents, it's important to question medical recommendations when faced with controversial information. Still, you should know that vaccinations against pertussis have proven effective and can protect your family against the disease and potentially dangerous pertussis-related complications. Do your research and talk to your doctor about the side effects as well as the efficacy of the pertussis vaccines.
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