Many of you have heard about the recent outbreak of Whooping Cough in Los Angeles, quickly spreading through schools. My phones have been ringing with parents wanting to know about whooping cough, if their child needs the vaccine and if they should get their coughing child tested.
Whooping cough (aka Pertussis) is an infection that starts as a cold with a runny nose, cough and sometimes fever, and then causes severe violent coughing spells. You may cough over and over again until there is no more air in your lungs and then you are forced to inhale with a loud “whooping” sound. In babies, the cough can make it hard to eat, drink, or breathe. Pertussis can cause babies to stop breathing (called apnea). Older kids will often cough, cough, cough until they throw up. In between coughing fits, older kids and adults can look and feel fine. It’s known as the 100-day cough for a reason—these spells can last for weeks or months.
The whooping cough vaccine protects against the disease well, but isn’t perfect and does wear off over time. Infants receive the DtaP (diptheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccine at 2, 4, 6 and 15 months of age, with a booster dose given at 4-5 years. Because immunity to whooping cough can wear off over time, the TdaP (tetanus, diptheria, pertussis) vaccine is given at age 10 or 11 and every 5 to 10 years after. New parents, grandparents and anyone who care for a newborn should also receive the vaccine since often it is parents or other caregiver who unknowingly passes whooping cough to a newborn.
If you’ve had a previous tetanus vaccine but aren’t sure if it had whooping cough protection in it (some adults and teens are only given Td without pertussis), ask your doctor. If it has been over 2 years since you or your teen received Td (tetanus without whooping cough), you can receive the new TdaP vaccine (tetanus with pertussis), which should protect you for 5 to 10 years.
When should you get your child tested for whooping cough? If they have a very forceful cough, followed by a “whoop” or throwing up, or if you have a baby with a forceful cough, see your pediatrician. She can test your child (or you) for Pertussis with a simple lab test that involved a swab tickle way up high in the nose and the results are usually back the next day. Treatment if needed is antibiotics, typically azithromycin (aka Z pak). Taking the antibiotic early in the illness once you are diagnosed can make your infection less serious and also decrease the chance that you will spread your germs to others.
As always, please cover your coughs, wash hands, stay home when sick and if you have any questions or concerns, call your pediatrician.