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Public Health Column for the Times-News

Whooping cough is community wide-protect yourself and others

Published: Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Times-News Columnist

Since November, our community has been challenged with a pertussis (whooping cough) outbreak. Whooping cough is often thought of as a disease of the past, but unfortunately, it’s making a comeback.

Some have wondered if those who refuse vaccines have caused this outbreak. But the truth is that most of the confirmed cases are individuals who have been vaccinated. But that begs the question: why should anyone get the vaccine if it’s not as effective?

Let’s start with the effectiveness of the Tdap vaccine, a combination vaccine that protects against pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, and diphtheria. The vaccine we use now is manufactured to be safer with fewer side effects. The tradeoff is that it does not offer as much protection, tending to wear off after 5 years. This imperfect vaccine results in waning immunity. The protection of the vaccine decreases over time, and that outcome is evident in the number of confirmed whooping cough cases in Henderson County.

Yet it’s still an important vaccine for many reasons. The disease can take a toll on anyone, but it can be deadly for babies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 10,000 and 50,000 whooping cough cases are reported each year, with up to 20 infant deaths due to the disease. Most deaths are in babies too young to be protected by their own vaccination.

For babies, protection against whooping cough can start before they’re even born. During the third trimester of each pregnancy, women should get the Tdap vaccine-a shot combining protection against whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria. Antibodies will be passed to the baby, providing protection until they are old enough to receive their first whooping cough vaccine, and the mother will have protection against spreading whooping cough to her newborn.

Before her baby is born, a pregnant woman should talk to others about making sure they are up-to-date with the Tdap vaccine. This includes the baby’s father, grandparents, sibling, aunts, uncles, cousins, babysitters, nursery and daycare staff. If someone is not up-to-date, he or she should get the whooping cough vaccine at least two weeks before coming in close contact with the new baby.

Babies begin their series of vaccines against whooping cough at 2 months of age with their first dose of DTaP. Like Tdap, this shot combines protection against whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria. The series is completed by getting additional doses at 4 months, 6 months, 15 through 18 months, and 4 through 6 years of age.

Since the protection of the DTaP vaccine provides young children decreases over time, preteens need the Tdap booster shot at 11 or 12 years old. That’s also why adults should get one Tdap vaccine in their lifetime and certain high-risk groups should get additional vaccines.

Be aware that it takes two weeks for the vaccine to provide maximum protection. If you get the whooping cough and you have been vaccinated, your symptoms should be less severe.

Even if you don’t have contact with children or babies, you can help protect yourself and those who are most vulnerable by ensuring your whooping cough vaccine is up-to-date. CDC recommends that all teens and adults who have never gotten the Tdap vaccine receive a dose. By vaccinating preteens, teens and adults-including pregnant women-in our community, we can surround our babies with protection.

What else can you do to protect yourself and others?

  • Make sure vaccinations are up-to-date. Get a booster Tdap if needed.
  • Look for symptoms of whooping cough-runny nose, low-grade fever and a mild cough.
  • See your healthcare provider if you show symptoms. Ask for a mask to wear while in the waiting room to protect others.
  • Stay out of work or school if you have symptoms.
  • If you are treated for whooping cough, finish the antibiotic before returning to school or work.
  • Wash your hands often. Cough and sneeze into the bend of your arm, not your hand.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly touched items such as light switches and door knobs.

Whooping cough is so contagious that we expect to see it in our county for some time. Don’t delay if you need the Tdap vaccine.

The Department of Public Health offers the Tdap vaccine at our Immunization Clinic. We are open Monday - Friday, 8-11:30 a.m. and 1-4 p.m. Uninsured individuals may be eligible for a vaccine at no cost if they meet criteria. We accept most major insurance plans (Blue Cross Blue Shield, United Health Care, Medcost, Medicaid and Health Choice). The cost for the vaccine, if not covered by insurance, is $60.00. We accept cash, checks and credit cards.

If you have questions, please call (828) 694-6015 or visit hendersoncountync.org/health and click on the pertussis (whooping cough) link.

Kim Horton is the communications manager at the Henderson County Department of Public Health. She can be reached at khorton@hendersoncountync.org.

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Department of Public Health • 1200 Spartanburg Highway, Suite 100 • Hendersonville, NC 28792 • (828) 692-4223