Childhood vaccination for whooping cough wears off
|Respiratory system. Image drawn by Theresa Knott, Wikipedia
Whooping cough, caused by bordetella pertussis bacterium, was once thought to be solely a scourge of the young. But recent studies show individuals need a booster shot at least once in adulthood.
The disease causes staccato coughing until the individual runs out of breath and must violently inhale more air, hence the "whoop" sound. The arrival of a vaccine in the 1940s eliminated most of the childhood cases and most people thought the disease was contained. An outbreak among some Illinois refinery workers in 2002 changed that thinking. A Centers for Disease Control investigation of that outbreak revealed that adults appear to lose the immunity gained by childhood vaccinations.
The risk of exposure to the disease is high because an infected person is contagious for up to 21 days before and after exhibiting symptoms. The disease spreads through expelled respiratory droplets. The CDC reports that pertussis affects an estimated 600,000 adults every year. Infectious disease experts estimate that there are likely many unconfirmed, milder cases taking the form of that "cough that just wouldn't go away."
Here at Fermilab, we have had a few confirmed cases, which were made all the more notable by fractured ribs received by the patient as a result of violent coughing often linked to the illness.
The CDC recommends that all adults receive a newly formulated tetanus-diphtheria and acellular-pertussis combination vaccination when their next tetanus booster comes due, which occurs about every 10 years.
During the past year, Fermilab's Medical Office has administered a few hundred doses of this combined vaccine with the worst outcome being a few sore shoulders.
The "acellular" designation in the vaccination prevents the high fevers and allergy reactions once associated with the older vaccine. It was first marketed in the United States in the late 1990s as a pediatric version of the vaccination and became standard for adults in 2005.
So if you're due for a tetanus booster, please contact the Medical Office for the added protection against pertussis.
-- Brian Svazas, MD
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