Roll Up Your Sleeve for New Pertussis Vaccine

Whooping cough (or pertussis) produces a nasty cough in adults, but it can be deadly for infants. And it's on the rise. That's why federal health officials are now recommending that adults receive a dose of a newly licensed pertussis vaccine - to help create what they call a "cocoon of protection" to safeguard infants against whooping cough.

Most of us were vaccinated against pertussis as children, but the vaccine wears off during adolescence. That leaves adults vulnerable to the disease, and in danger of spreading it to infants, who do not gain full immunity from vaccines until they are 6 months old.

There were 92 infant deaths from pertussis between 2000 and 2004. Last year, the national Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recorded the highest number of reported pertussis cases in four decades - nearly 26,000.
Three years ago, Jeanne Betbeze developed pertussis and spread it to her then 4-week-old son, Austin. He was hospitalized, and within three days was in respiratory failure.

"At one point, they gave us a 10 percent chance of survival," Betbeze says. Austin spent three months in the hospital, and eventually made a full recovery.

"Three years ago, I had no idea that pertussis was still a problem, and many of the medical staff members that worked on Austin were surprised as well," Betbeze says. "It is frightening to think that this same scenario is playing out in communities across the country."

A new vaccine, sold under the brand name Adacel, is licensed for ages 11 to 64 and also protects against tetanus and diphtheria, replacing the booster that adolescents and adults are supposed to have every 10 years. The CDC recommends that all adults receive one dose of the new vaccine if it has been 10 years or more since their last tetanus/DpT booster. Adults in close contact with infants less than 12 months of age should be vaccinated if it has been at least two years since their last booster.

- Christina Elston

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