The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week announced whooping cough (pertussis) is causing the worst epidemic seen in the U.S. in more than 50 years, and called for adults to be vaccinated against the disease. According to the CDC, people who are not vaccinated have eight times the risk of infection compared to people who are fully vaccinated against pertussis. If someone who has been vaccinated does get pertussis, the disease is usually less serious and they’re far less likely to spread the virus to someone else. The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) joins the CDC in urging Iowa adults to talk to their health care provider about getting a booster dose of pertussis-containing vaccine,.
“Iowa is among the states seeing continued spread of pertussis,” said IDPH Medical Director, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk. “As of this week, 785 cases of whooping cough have been reported to IDPH, which is a nearly 500 percent increase over last year at this time.” It’s likely the number of pertussis cases in Iowa is even higher than what’s reported, since many adults with pertussis are not diagnosed. While children ages 5 to 14 years make up the bulk of reported cases, it’s important to note that adults are considered the primary ‘spreaders’ of the disease.
Children receive pertussis-containing vaccine beginning at 2 months of age, and are recommended to get a booster dose of pertussis-containing vaccine at 11 or 12 years of age. Typically adults haven’t had a pertussis vaccination since childhood, so they probably have little immunity left to pertussis. When they get the disease, their symptoms are milder and are often mistaken for a lingering cough; thus, they spread the disease to others without knowing they have it.
It’s especially important that adults receive pertussis-containing vaccine because they can spread the disease to infants who are too young to be immunized. In infants, pertussis can be severe and even deadly. Adults can receive the Tdap (the adult tetanus vaccine that also contains whooping cough vaccine) immunization.
The most common symptoms of pertussis in children are fits of coughing, followed by vomiting, a ‘whooping’ sound as air is inhaled, and difficulty sleeping. In adults, however, only a lingering cough that can last for weeks is often seen. This is why many adults do not realize they have pertussis. While treatment with antibiotics will prevent an individual from spreading the disease further after being diagnosed with pertussis, the cough may continue to last for weeks.
For more information about pertussis, including the Iowa Pertussis Update, visit www.idph.state.ia.us/Cade/default.aspx?group=3#DI.