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Children's Vaccines Health Center

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Whooping Cough Risk & Kids Who Miss Vaccinations

It's important to get all doses without delay, researchers say


"Pertussis is the most frequent vaccine-preventable infection in the United States," said Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an attending physician in the division of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. Hirsch was not involved in the study.

Whooping cough in babies has led to death from respiratory failure on occasion, he said.

"It causes a miserable long-lasting cough in adults, and it can be prevented with a well-tolerated vaccine," Hirsch said. "The vaccine preparation that we now use to combat pertussis is safe and easy. There are new requirements that pregnant women receive this vaccine to help protect their newborns. Completing the vaccine series is important to protect the health of children, adults and especially our babies."

In 2012, the United States had the most whooping cough cases since 1959 -- 41,000 illnesses and 18 deaths, mostly in infants, according to the CDC.

Pertussis cases may be increasing for several reasons, study author Glanz said. Besides undervaccination of infants, immunity is also waning because the effectiveness of the vaccine declines over time. This may account for the increase of pertussis among teens, he said.

"There is also recent evidence that the booster shot is only moderately effective," Glanz said, adding that a more effective booster vaccine is needed and perhaps a more effective initial vaccine as well.

"We also need better messages to help concerned parents make the best decision for their children, which is to get their vaccines on time," he said.

Teens and adults should receive a booster shot to protect themselves and unvaccinated infants, according to the CDC. In addition, pregnant women should be vaccinated during each pregnancy.

Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said adults are just as vulnerable to the disease as kids. "There are adults who are having grandchildren who are instructed that they have to be immunized before the grandchild is born," he said.

In 2010, nearly 28,000 cases of pertussis were reported in the United States but many more go undiagnosed and unreported, according to the CDC.

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