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Children's Health

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Whooping Cough: What You Need to Know

An Interview With CDC Infectious Disease Expert Tom Clark


The Tdap vaccine is recommended for all adolescents, preferably at age 11 or 12 during a preventive care visit with their doctor. But anyone who hasn't gotten it at age 11 or 12 can get a dose.

If adults have never had [the vaccine], they should definitely get it, and they can get it at any time. They don't have to wait until they're due for their tetanus vaccine.

For infants who are too young to be vaccinated and who are at highest risk for disease and severe complications, we recommend that everybody who is in the house or caring for the baby get vaccinated to help protect the baby.

How do outbreaks of whooping cough start?

Things that can promote outbreaks or promote the spread of disease include low vaccination coverage. Protection from the vaccine doesn't last forever. Immunity wanes over time. That's why you commonly see outbreaks in teenagers.

The reason that the adolescent and adult Tdap booster was developed was really the increase in disease observed in teenagers and young adults as a result of waning immunity.

Are we seeing more outbreaks of whooping cough, and if so, why?

It definitely comes and goes. There are frequently outbreaks. But most are kind of small clusters of dozens of cases. Large, community-wide outbreaks are pretty rare. Occasionally, every 3 to 5 years, we see big increases in states or regions of the country.

Transmission is a definite and recognized cycle. It's thought that as transmission declines, the number of people in the total population who are susceptible gradually increases because the disease isn't circulating as much, and protection from the vaccine wanes over time. And then transmission gradually increases and runs through the susceptible population until it starts to decline again.

Do other family members need to take preventive antibiotics or vaccine boosters if they've been exposed?

They do. It's always important to make sure that kids are up-to-date with their immunizations. With the Tdap booster, make sure adolescents and adults are up-to-date with their immunizations. The person with pertussis should be treated, and people who are in close contact should get preventive antibiotics.

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Reviewed on July 19, 2010

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