Rates of whooping cough in the U.S. are at their highest level in decades, but most adults don't know whether or not they protected against pertussis, which is responsible for the illness.
“Pertussis immunity is not life long, so it lasts about five to ten years, twelve tops. So by the time you’re a teenager, late teenager/young adult, you are probably not immune any longer to pertussis,” says Dr. Angela D’Alessandro, pediatrician on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.
The rise in whooping cough dates back to 2010. By 2012 the number of cases soared to 41,000; that’s the highest since 1955. It presents a clear and present danger to babies.
“The illness has the highest mortality in infants under six months. Under three months they have the highest mortality and it’s because they have the most complications, so they don’t just get the coughing spells, but they stop breathing. They can have respiratory failure, seizures, and death,” says Dr. D’Alessandro.
Results from a recent poll found 61% of adults didn’t know when they were last immunized against whooping cough. This is part of the T-DAP vaccination. Children get several doses in their scheduled shots. But it’s the grownups who are most responsible for spreading the disease.
“When we look at how a child, an infant gets pertussis, 50% of cases are from mom and dad, another 25% are from grandma and grandpa. So if these four, five, six people get vaccinated, you’ve decreases the risk for the infant by 75%,” says Dr. D’Alessandro.
Whooping cough lasts two to three months, with patients contagious the entire time.
“You can imagine how much can be spread over a three-month period of time,” says Dr. D’Alessandro.
And it’s not something you want to pass on to loved ones.