Pertussis or whooping cough is a bacterial respiratory disease marked by a runny nose for a week or two followed by a severe persistent cough.  In adults it rarely causes severe illness, and usually resolves even without treatment, but in infants the disease can be life-threatening.

California is currently experiencing a whooping cough epidemic.  Over 4,000 cases have been reported this year, the most since 1955.  Nine have died, all babies.  Three quarters of the patients that required hospitalization were 6 months old or younger.

The best protection from pertussis is vaccination, and children should routinely get 5 doses of pertussis vaccine between the ages of 2 months and 6 years.  But since the first dose is given at two months, newborns are particularly vulnerable.  And since not all children receive their immunizations on schedule, there is a larger group of vulnerable kids.

Many adults are no longer protected by the vaccinations they received in childhood, and though adults typically have much milder symptoms, they are a common gateway to infection for the children in their environment.  Because of this the LA County Health Department has expanded recommendations for adult pertussis vaccinations to include all adults.

Pertussis vaccines are recommended for:

  • Infants, children and pre-teens, (See the link to the patient leaflet below for the specific immunization schedule.)
  • Adults and teens who have never received a Tdap vaccine, especially:
    • Women of childbearing age before, during, or immediately after pregnancy
    • Healthcare workers
    • People who have close contact with infants including parents, grandparents, siblings, and childcare providers

Adults only need one Tdap in their lifetime.  As an added bonus, the Tdap vaccine also includes the tetanus and diphtheria boosters, which you then won’t need for another ten years.  So go to your doctor and get one.

Learn more:

NPR Health Blog:  Calif. Whooping Cough Cases Near 55-Year High

Los Angeles Times LA Now Blog:  Whooping cough data from state show babies hardest hit, epidemic worst since 1955

County of Los Angeles Public Health Department pertussis vaccination patient leaflet

County of Los Angeles Public Health Department letter to healthcare providers