Protecting Against Whooping Cough

Northwestern Medicine
Infectious Disease December 14, 2012
woman coughingJenny Lee, MD, is an internal medicine, infectious diseases and travel medicine physician at Northwestern Integrative Medicine. Below is an excerpt of an interview with Dr. Lee regarding ways to protect yourself and your family from whooping cough.

Q: What is whooping cough and what are the symptoms? 
A: Whooping cough, or pertussis, typically starts similar to a common cold, which is followed by coughing fits that can be severe. More commonly in children, a high-pitched “whoop” can be heard when breathing in. In adults, the cough is can be “barky” in nature. 

Q: How can I prevent it? 
A: There is a vaccine called Tdap that is available for adults. A pediatric version, DTaP is given as a standard vaccine for children in the U.S. However, a booster shot is needed once as an adult. 

Q: When should people get the vaccine? 
A: Assuming the childhood vaccine series has been completed, the booster with Tdap needs to be given once in adulthood. The Td (tetanus-diphtheria) only should be given every 10 years. 

Q: Do I need this vaccine if I got a flu shot? 
A: The influenza vaccine protects against the flu and has no activity against pertussis. You need both vaccinations to be protected against the flu and pertussis. 

Q: Can someone get both vaccinations at the same time? 
A: Yes, they can be given at the same time. 

Q: Are there other methods of prevention besides the Tdap vaccine? 
A: Washing your hands and avoiding getting close to those actively coughing should help. The vaccine is helpful, but like most vaccines, is not 100% effective. If you are exposed to pertussis, you should contact your primary care provider. There are antibiotics that can decrease the risk you will contract the infection. The key is that the antibiotics need to be started before the coughing phase begins. Once that starts, the antibiotics are not helpful.

To make an appointment at Northwestern Integrative Medicine, call 312.926.0779.

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