Whooping Cough: A Potentially Fatal Epidemic

Whooping Cough

Eleven-week-old Michael Clark struggles to breathe and remains on a ventilator as he continues his battle with whooping cough, otherwise known as pertussis.

Michael is in the Children’s Medical Center intensive care unit – one of the 130 patients with whooping cough that Children’s has seen so far this year.

The whooping cough epidemic is a potentially deadly one, affecting young infants who are too young to have completed their primary immunization series. The number of patients with the disease at Children’s this year has already exceeded the annual total for each of the past six years. Texas is currently on track to reach the highest amount of cases since 1950.

Jeffrey Kahn, M.D.

Jeffrey Kahn, M.D.

The answer to this epidemic? “Everyone should get vaccinated,” says Jeffrey Kahn, M.D., division director of Infectious Disease at Children’s.

The highly contagious respiratory disease is most often passed from adult to child. Some adults may not have a severe cough because they have a “partial immunity,” but they can spread the germ to young infants or to people with weakened immune systems who can develop severe disease that may be fatal.

“The cough due to pertussis can last many weeks (some refer to it as the “cough of 100 days”), so anyone who has a persistent cough should be evaluated,” says Dr. Kahn.

Watch a video segment from CBS Evening News featuring Dr. Kahn and Michael’s journey with whooping cough.

DTaP Vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the DTaP vaccine for children, which is a combination vaccine that protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. The protection is delivered as a series of five shots, which are given at 2, 4 and 6 months of age, between 15 and 18 months, and then before a child enters school at 4 to 6 years old.

Adults, including pregnant women, should receive a one-time pertussis booster of DTaP, which will also provide protection against diphtheria and tetanus.

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