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Too Few Adults Vaccinated Against Whooping Cough: CDC

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Oct. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Recent outbreaks of whooping cough highlight the need for adults to be vaccinated against this highly contagious disease, U.S. health officials said Thursday.

Not only does vaccination protect adults against the disease, it reduces the odds that they will pass on an illness that can be life-threatening to those most at risk: infants who haven't finished their full vaccination series, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A whooping cough outbreak this year in California has already sickened more than 5,270 infants and killed nine, the agency reported. That rate of illness is the highest recorded in the state since 1955, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The best way to protect yourself and the infants you come into contact from getting whooping cough -- also known as pertussis -- is the tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) vaccine, the CDC advises.

"A pertussis booster shot is essential to prevent the spread of pertussis to infants," said infectious disease expert Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at New York University in New York City, who was not involved in the report.

"This vaccine wears off, and if you don't get a booster you are putting babies at risk because the spread of pertussis is on the increase, with 17,000 cases reported in 2009," he said. Most infants that have not had their full vaccination series are under six months of age.

If you take care of an infant or have contact with an infant, you have to get a booster, Siegel said. "That booster is best done by getting Tdap, because you need a tetanus booster anyway, so Tdap makes total sense," he said.

The CDC recommends that all adults 18-64 in contact with infants or working in healthcare receive a Tdap within two years of their last tetanus vaccination, and that other adults in the same age range be offered the vaccine 10 years or more after their last tetanus shot.

However, in the event of outbreaks or a jump in cases of whooping cough in the community, these adults can be vaccinated even when they got last tetanus shot less than 10 years ago, the agency said.

Tdap, which was first introduced in 2005, offers protection from tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.

However, in 2008, only 5.9 percent of U.S. adults received the Tdap vaccine, and 13, 278 cases of whooping cough were reported -- a figure that is likely an underestimate, according to the report in the Oct. 15 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The survey was limited in that vaccination data was self-reported and possibly inaccurate; also, many respondents were excluded because they were unsure whether they got a regular tetanus shot or Tdap. This means that as many as 14.6 percent of U.S. adults may actually have gotten the Tdap vaccine, the agency reported, but they added that even that figure was "suboptimal."

The Tdap is totally safe and everyone should be vaccinated, Siegel said. But there may not be enough awareness of the need for these boosters, and there is a lot of anti-vaccine propaganda out there, he said. "We need a pro-vaccine campaign to combat the anti-vaccine campaign," he concluded.

More information

For more information on Tdap vaccine, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Marc Siegel, M.D., associate professor, medicine, New York University, New York City; Oct. 15, 2010, CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

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