Protect yourself, your family from whooping cough

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jessica Settle
  • 110th Bomb Squadron senior medic
In 2012, Missouri had an increase in confirmed and probable cases of pertussis. It is a year-round disease that typically peaks in the fall and winter during cold and flu season.

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious, vaccine-preventable, respiratory disease that can be passed easily from person to person. It is caused by a bacteria found in the mouth, nose and throat of an infected person, and is spread when that individual coughs, sneezes or talks.

But, there is a way to protect yourself and your family from pertussis. That way is vaccination.

The recommended pertussis vaccine for infants and children is called DTaP. For maximum protection against pertussis, children need five of the DTaP shots.

· The first three shots are given at 2, 4 and 6 months old
· The fourth shot is given between 15 and 18 months old
· The fifth shot - the booster dose - is given when a child enters school, at 4 through 6 years of age

Once through childhood, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a single booster (Tdap) for those 11 years old through adulthood. The shot is highly recommended for those who are in close contact with a baby, including parents, siblings, grandparents and caregivers. Tdap boosters are also required for students beginning in the eighth grade.

Additionally, pregnant women should receive a Tdap during each pregnancy, regardless of previous history of receiving a Tdap. Ideally, the vaccine should be given between weeks 27 and 36 of the pregnancy. However, it may be given at any time during the pregnancy. A woman who did not receive a dose of Tdap during her pregnancy should get a dose of Tdap immediately post-partum. The shot (Tdap) can protect the mother at the time of delivery, making her less likely to transmit pertussis to her infant.

Additionally, pertussis most commonly affects infants and young children and can be fatal. Unvaccinated children are more likely to get pertussis than fully immunized children. If left unvaccinated, pertussis can be fatal, especially in babies under 1 year old. It is the adults who are responsible for transmitting more than half of the whooping cough cases diagnosed in infants and young children.

Some signs and symptoms of pertussis are:

· Cold and flu-like symptoms, including a runny nose, an occasional cough, sneezing and a low-grade fever.
· After about two weeks, the coughing becomes more severe and rapid, resulting in shortness of breath.
· After a coughing episode, someone with pertussis needs to take deep breaths, which often times can result in a "whooping" sound.
· After an episode, the patient commonly vomits and feels tired. Oftentimes, children may turn blue due to coughing and shortness of breath.

Pertussis can last for weeks and even months if not treated early, and it is not uncommon to experience no signs of illness between episodes. That said, it is important to remain aware of the symptoms and the possible consequences of not getting the vaccine.

I encourage you to talk to your health care provider about getting your family vaccinated against pertussis today.

For more information about pertussis, visit the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services' web site at

About the Author:

Master Sgt. Jessica Settle is a traditional Guardsman from Jefferson City. In her full-time employment, she is a planner for the Bureau of Immunization Assessment and Assurance within the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Her job duties include school and child care requirements, as well as immunization education and training. She has been with the 131st Bomb Wing since 2008.