Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease. It is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. The Texas State Health Department recently issued an advisory to have children vaccinated, and adults catch up on their booster shots. At the end of August, 1,000 cases had been reported – double the cases from last year.
Pertussis is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe. After fits of many coughs, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breathes which result in a “whooping” sound. Pertussis most commonly affects infants and young children and can be fatal, especially in babies less than 1 year of age.
Vaccination is the best way to be protected against Pertussis. There are vaccines for infants, children, preteens, teens and adults. The childhood vaccine is called DTaP, and the pertussis booster vaccine for adolescents and adults is called Tdap. Talk to your healthcare provider about getting vaccinated against pertussis. You must stay vigilant. We may think we’ve gotten the upper hand against pertussis. But, the disease is always scheming to get back on top. Since the 1980s, doctors have been reporting increasing numbers of pertussis cases. At the moment, there are still far fewer cases than there were before the vaccine. Still, the number of people infected seems to peak every three or four years, showing that pertussis is still out there figuring out its next move.
Pertussis leaves its victims literally gasping for air. At first, this tricky pretender might seem like a common cold—runny nose, fever, and cough. That’s stage 1, when pertussis is just warming up. After a week or two, pertussis infection delivers its cruel surprise—extreme coughing spells. In these fits people can literally cough so hard and long that they throw up or turn blue because they can’t breathe. Victims of pertussis make a gasping “whoop” sound when they suck in air after a coughing fit. Pertussis infection is no joke—about 40% of infants who get it wind up in the hospital! Weeks after Stage 2, as the body finally fends off pertussis, the victims’ cough tapers down. Infected persons are most contagious during the time severe symptoms appear; and remain contagious up to two weeks after the cough begins.
Pertussis fears four letters — D, T, a and P — and 2 vaccines, “DTaP” and “Tdap”. Kids get “DTaP” while teenagers and grownups get a “boost” with “Tdap.” The vaccine ammo contains diphtheria (the D), tetanus (the T), and acellular pertussis (aP). The term “acellular” (pronounced A-SELL-you-lur) means that the vaccine uses pieces of pertussis bacteria (not the whole bacterium cell). By using just pieces, the vaccine can “teach” the body to protect itself, with the fewest side effects.
Since the days before the vaccine, pertussis cases are down more than 80%. Pertussis may be tough, but some simple basics can help to keep it in check: like washing hands with soap, covering up coughs and sneezes, and not sharing cups and silverware. Wearing a N95 face mask could be of help, especially to those parents and caregivers of new infants.