Children under one year old are the most at risk for whooping cough. Find out what you can do to protect your family against this infection.
Whooping Cough Basics
The bacterium Bordetella pertussis causes whooping cough. This bacterial infection of the respiratory system is marked by severe coughing spells that end in a "whooping" sound when a child takes a breath. These coughing spells can last more than a minute and cause a child to turn purple or red and sometimes vomit. In severe episodes, the child may suffer from lack of oxygen to the brain.
Who's at Risk for Whooping Cough
Whooping cough is highly contagious. It can occur at any age but is most severe before children reach their first birthday, because they are not yet adequately protected by immunizations. The immunity provided by the early childhood vaccines and the booster often wanes, leaving adolescents and adults susceptible. When these older people get whooping cough, they usually have a hacking cough, not whoops.
Defensive Measures Against Whooping Cough
Whooping cough can be prevented with the pertussis vaccine, which is part of the DTP or DTaP shot. To give additional protection in case immunity fades, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends a booster shot of the newer combination vaccine (called Tdap) for those between the ages of 11 and 18 instead of the Td booster routinely given in this age range.
The older DTP vaccine contained killed, whole bacteria and commonly caused fever, pain, and redness at the vaccination site. Now, a cell-free vaccine that uses inactivated toxins (toxoids) is used. It is better tolerated, although it does not produce immunity that lasts longer than the older product.
If someone in your family has whooping cough, every member of your household might receive antibiotics. Young children who have not received all five doses of the vaccine may require an immediate booster dose if exposed to an infected family member.
Thanks to medical breakthroughs throughout the years, many potentially serious diseases are no longer a concern for parents. By working with your child's pediatrician, you can ensure your child receives all the proper vaccinations and remains as healthy as possible throughout childhood and into adulthood.
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