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Whooping Cough / Pertussis

(Chester County Moms - February 8, 2012)

Also known as Pertussis, this highly contagious respiratory tract infection is understandably at front of mind for many in Chester County. Most commonly spread through the air when a person sneezes or coughs, Pertussis begins with regular cold symptoms and progresses to "coughing fits" that can make a "whooping" noise, hence the name. Coughing is many times worse at night. Older children and adults may not experience the "whooping" noise when coughing.

Other symptoms include vomiting, turning blue, and difficulty catching breath. Although symptoms may be severe, deaths are rare, especially in those over the age of one.

For more information about Pertussis, visit the Chester County Health Department.

THERE ARE TWO VACCINES THAT PROTECT AGAINST PERTUSSIS
DTaP
is the vaccine given to children 6 years old and younger. The first dose is not given until the child is 2 months old. It is part of the routine immunizations usually given to children by their healthcare provider at well child check-ups. This vaccine protects children against diptheria, tetanus and pertussis. Until 2005, there was no additional vaccine for pertussis that was approved for use in anyone over 6 years old.

Tdap is a vaccine just licensed in 2005 for the protection of adolescents and adults. It protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. As we get older, the immunizations most of us received as children become less effective. Tdap was developed as a way to boost, or recreate, the immunity we had as children.

Another related vaccine, Td, refers to the vaccine that is commonly called a "tetanus shot." It protects against tetanus and diphtheria but not pertussis. It is often given as a result of a "dirty" injury, like stepping on a nail, to prevent tetanus (also known as lockjaw). This vaccine can be given to anyone 7 years old or older. People should be revaccinated with Td at least every 10 years.

Here is some information that may help if you have questions about immunizations you may have received here at The Chester County Hospital. [Please note: Other hospitals may have different processes.]:

  • The Chester County Hospital does not administer DTaP to children of any age in Pediatrics or the Nursery. It is not indicated for infants under 2 months old or if a child is acutely ill. The only exception would be if your newborn was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for more than 2 months. DTap may have been given in this case. You should check your child's medical record in this situation.
  • The Chester County Hospital does not offer DTaP or Tdap in our Emergency Department. If you received a vaccine in our Emergency Department, it was a regular tetanus shot which provides no protection from pertussis.
  • Tdap was not available until 2005. Adolescents and adults would not have been immunized for pertussis in any setting prior to 2005.
  • Until recently (in the past month), Tdap was only approved to be given AFTER delivery. The Chester County Hospital began offering it to post-partum mothers in 2009. You would not have received Tdap during your pregnancy. Also, you would not have received Tdap if you delivered a baby at The Chester County Hospital prior to 2009.
  • There are other circumstances, like allergic reactions to previous vaccines or having gotten a tetanus shot in the last 2 years, that can prevent you from receiving these vaccines even when they are indicated.
  • Finally, please remember that immunizations do not act immediately. It generally takes 10 days to 2 weeks after you receive vaccine to develop protective immunity.

Last Updated: 9/18/2012