Outbreaks of whooping cough among adolescents have increased dramatically. The number of
reported cases in 2004 was more than 10 times what it was just 10 years earlier.
1,2 The good news
is that there are booster vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough approved by the
US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
What is whooping cough?
Whooping cough, also known by the medical name
“pertussis”, is a serious disease. It starts out like a cold, but
can become much worse. It causes severe coughing fits and
the cough can last, on average, 106 days.
cough spreads easily and is on the rise in the US, especially
among preteens and teens.
What are the symptoms of whooping cough?
At first, symptoms are like the common cold—mild fever,
runny nose, and a cough. Then the cough becomes more
severe, causing coughing fits that may be followed by
vomiting. Whooping cough can also lead to seizures
How common is whooping cough?
In 2004, there were 25,827 reported cases in the US, with
the largest number of cases in preteens and teens.
since whooping cough is often mistaken for other illnesses,
there were likely many more cases. It is estimated that over
1 million people in the US get whooping cough every year.
Are my preteen and teenage children at risk?
Simply put, the answer is yes. While most babies and young
children get whooping cough shots, this protection begins to
wear off after 5 to 10 years.
4 So your children may now be
at risk for whooping cough.
How do you catch whooping cough?
Whooping cough is spread by airborne droplets when an
infected person coughs or sneezes. Whooping cough is very
contagious. It spreads especially easily in school settings,
where infected children can come in contact with lots of
other kids. In fact, whooping cough outbreaks often start in
middle and high schools.
4 Adolescents then spread the
disease to family members and others in the community.
How can I prevent my preteens and teens from
getting whooping cough?
The best way to prevent whooping cough is to get vaccinated.
Experts working with the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention recommend that adolescents between 11 and
18 years old should receive a single dose of booster vaccine
known as a “Tdap” (TEE-dap) for tetanus, diphtheria, and
whooping cough. This shot replaces the tetanus shot (Td)
that is usually given to preteens and teens. The preferred
age for children to get the vaccine is 11 to 12.
4 Talk to your
children’s doctor about it at their next visit, or call the office
to schedule an appointment for vaccination.
Is the whooping cough shot safe for my children?
The safety of the approved vaccines was found to be
comparable to the safety of the routinely given tetanus shot
(Td). In studies, the most common side effects were soreness,
redness, and swelling where the shot was given, headache,
fever, tiredness, and body ache. Other side effects were
nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or stomach pain. The
vaccines should not be given to patients who are allergic
to any part of the vaccine. As with any vaccine, rare
unexpected side effects may occur and vaccination may
not protect everyone receiving the vaccines.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epidemiology and Prevention of
Atkinson WL, Hamborsky J, McIntyre L, Wolfe S, eds. 9th ed.
Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation; 2006:79–96.
2. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention. Pertussis Surveillance Report 2004 (Final data). Issued August 12, 2005.
Lee GM, Lett S, Schauer S, et al. Societal costs and morbidity of pertussis in adolescents
Clin Infect Dis. 2004;39:1572–1580. 4. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. Preventing tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis among adolescents: use of tetanus
toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid and acellular pertussis vaccines.
Strebel P, Nordin J, Edwards K, et al. Population-based incidence of pertussis among
adolescents and adults, Minnesota, 1995-1996.
J Infect Dis. 2001;183:1353–1359.
Purdy KW, Hay JW, Botteman MF, Ward JI. Evaluation of strategies for use of acellular
pertussis vaccine in adolescents and adults: a cost-benefit analysis.
Clin Infect Dis.