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A two pronged approach to fight whooping cough

June 2, 2010

A story in the May 31 issue of the Los Angeles Times tells the cautionary tale of a mother who unknowingly passed pertussis (whooping cough) onto her two young children, one of whom died.

“The mother wasn’t sure where or how she’d picked up the disease, but she had been vaccinated for it, like so many adults, as a child.

Pertussis will never go away completely because immunization is only partly effective,” said Thomas Fekete, chief of infectious diseases at the School of Medicine at Temple University.  “The bacterium that causes pertussis is resilient and can persist for days to weeks in the throat.”

Fekete said that up until a few years ago, the effort to keep those at greatest risk – children – safe from whooping cough was to rely solely on childhood vaccinations.

“Now we have two newer tools to control pertussis,” he said.  “The treatment of infected adults with antibiotics, and the immunization of adults with a new vaccine. Since adults are already encouraged to get tetanus vaccine every ten years, we now give them a combination of vaccines of tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis – or Tdap.”

According to Fekete, the effectiveness of vaccines depends on their wide acceptance in the community since the direct beneficiaries will never be known. Getting vaccinated is one way to help out our neighbors while also protecting ourselves and our families, he says.

“The lion’s share of vaccines is highly effective in reducing this risk than avoiding vaccination,” he said.  “I wouldn’t hesitate to take appropriate vaccines and I encourage others to do the same.”

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