Whooping cough is a horrendous, debilitating bacterial infection marked by a long consecutive fit of harsh, violent coughs and a “whoop” that comes from the patients as they gasp for breath after the coughing episodes. It is unlike any cough most of us have seen in cold virus infections or in the relatively common community-acquired bronchitis or pneumonia infections. There are several videos on YouTube.com that show the violent, debilitating nature of this horrible infectious disease.
One of the reasons whooping cough is so rarely seen is that the pertussis bacteria is targeted in a series of combination shots that infants and children receive during their first months and years of life. The DTaP covers diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis and provides excellent protection against the whooping cough in the early years of childhood, when the disease is mostly likely to strike and can be especially devastating to the developing lungs of young children. A booster vaccination for older children, adolescents and adults, called Tdap, is also available and covers diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.
While whooping cough can be treated, it can still be a brutal, debilitating period of time, requiring hospitalization and isolation. It also puts the patient at serious risk of malnutrition, pneumonia and even seizures.
Both the state and county health departments have vigorously appealed to the health care community to implement an aggressive vaccination campaign on behalf of the public.
While infants should start their DTaP vaccination series at 6 weeks, everyone else should receive the Tdap booster if they are age 7 and older. The state health department has also identified several priority groups. Women of childbearing age should receive the Tdap booster, and pregnant women (preferably in the second or third trimester) should receive the booster, as well. It is also recommended for parents, child care providers and all others who might have close contact with infants.
In addition, the state requires health care workers, especially those in contact with pregnant women and infants, to be immunized with the Tdap booster.
Finally, patients 7 years old or older with wounds that would normally require a tetanus booster should receive the Tdap booster instead.
More information can be read at the California Department of Public Health website, www.cdph.ca.gov. Talk with your health care provider about any questions or worries you have about whooping cough.
• Richard O’Bryan, a volunteer columnist for the Irrigator, is a nationally board-certified and licensed physician assistant and former Patterson paramedic who practices at the Patterson First Care clinic. Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor. Readers can e-mail questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.