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Get Vaccinated for Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

2009 03 07_1612_1
2010 may be a peak year for pertussis 

There has been an increase in the number of cases of pertussis (commonly referred to as "Whooping Cough") in San Mateo County and throughout the U.S. this year.  The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is very concerned that 2010 will be a peak year for pertussis, as was 2005 when at least eight infants died. So far in 2010, five infants are known to have died of pertussis in California. This year all infant deaths are under 3 months of age. 

What is pertussis?

Pertussis is an infection of the respiratory tract that usually lasts 6-10 weeks.  Symptoms begin with a runny nose, sneezing, possibly a low-grade fever, and mild cough.  After a week or two, a persistent cough develops, which may occur in explosive bursts, sometimes ending in a high-pitched whoop and vomiting.  Older children and adults may have a less typical cough.  Although the disease is less severe in adults and older children, they can unknowingly infect infants and preschoolers who are at risk for serious illness. 
Pertussis can lead to serious complications, such as seizures and pneumonia, and even death. 83% of deaths from pertussis occur in infants younger than 3 months of age and household contacts have accounted for the majority of implicated transmissions to infants.
Pertussis is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes tiny droplets into the air and another person breathes them in.  An infected person is contagious at the time of the early cold-like symptoms, before persistent coughing starts.  Persons remain contagious until about three weeks after the persistent cough begins (for a total contagious period of about five weeks for untreated pertussis).  Those treated with antibiotics are no longer contagious after completing five days of treatment. San Mateo County Health System Communicable Disease Control Program recommends that students ill with pertussis remain home from school during their contagious period. 

Why are we concerned about pertussis among infants? 
Infants under the age of 12 months have more serious illness from pertussis and they are more likely to have complications and be hospitalized than persons in other age groups. In the 1990s, about two thirds of infants reported with pertussis were hospitalized. Infants are more likely to have pneumonia or convulsions. Infants also are at greatest risk of fatal pertussis. In recent years, 8 to 40 infant deaths from pertussis are reported to CDC annually.

Children should be vaccinated against pertussis

Children should be vaccinated with DTaP (diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine). DTaP is safe and effective, and prevents severe pertussis and death among infants and young children. The best way to protect infants from pertussis is to give DTaP vaccine on time at 2, 4, and 6 months of age. At least three DTaP doses are needed to have the maximum benefit from the vaccination.  However, per the American Academy of Pediatrics 2009 Red Book, "If pertussis is prevalent in the community, immunization can be started as early as 6 weeks of age, and doses 2 and 3 in the primary series can be given at intervals of 4 weeks."  Your pediatrician may recommend an accelerated DTaP schedule for your infant during the current pertussis epidemic.  Vaccine will then  be given at 6 weeks, 10 weeks, 12 weeks, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years of age.

Parents play a key part in helping to minimize and control the spread of pertussis

Parents are urged to make sure their infant receives all recommended doses of DTaP on time to best protect their infant. An additional dose of DTaP vaccine is recommended at 15-18 months and at 4-6 years of age to maintain protection.  Protection from childhood vaccine fades over time. Parents of newborns should be cautious about their baby's exposure to people who are sick. It is always a good idea to wash your hands and ask others to wash their hands before holding a baby, and to refrain from being near a newborn if you have any symptoms of illness, especially cold or flu symptoms.

What populations should get a Tdap vaccine?

A dose of Tdap is recommended by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) for all individuals ages 7 years and older who have not previously received the vaccine. In particular, healthcare workers, preschool teachers, parents, people who travel to countries where rates of pertussis remain high, and those who work with infants, such as caregivers are highly encouraged to get a Tdap vaccine. 

In partnership, First 5 San Mateo County and the San Mateo County Health System have provided the information contained in this Health Bulletin.  For additional information about pertussis or to schedule a 20 minute presentation about the symptoms, treatment and prevention of spreading pertussis, contact Natasha Desai at or (650) 573-2009. For additional information about First 5 San Mateo County, contact Chonne Sherman, Communication & Operations Liaison at

Where to get your Pertussis Vaccination in San Mateo County





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