Adults Should Consider Re-Vaccination for Whooping Cough

“Vaccines are not just for children any more.”

That is the important, and potentially life-saving message, that Geisinger Health System pediatric gastroenterologist William Cochran, M.D., vice chairman of the Janet Weis Children’s Hospital, wants to deliver. And this is a message that comes from personal experience.

“I am a physician, and I didn’t realize that adults needed to be revaccinated for what are considered childhood diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough),” said Dr. Cochran. “And I found that out the hard way – by contracting that very disease.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pertussis is an acute, infectious cough illness that remains prevalent in the United States despite longstanding routine childhood pertussis vaccination. It is characterized by the unforgettable “whoop” sound made when gasping for breath after a coughing fit. It creates a sticky, thick mucous that makes it difficult to eat, drink and breathe.

This remains an issue because immunity wanes approximately five to 10 years after completion of childhood vaccination, leaving adolescents and adults susceptible to the disease. The CDC reports that since the 1980s, the number of reported pertussis cases has increased steadily, especially among adolescents and adults. And, between 2000-2003 and 2004-2007, there was a 100-percent increase in reported cases of pertussis; there may be as many as 800,000 to 3.3 million adult and adolescent cases of pertussis in any given year.

“This is considered the 100-day cough,” said Lisa Esolen, M.D., system director of Geisinger Infection Control. “This is not a cough that goes away after a few days. At Geisinger alone, we’ve had two pertussis outbreaks within a span of a year, one of which required delivering antibiotics to 105 people who were exposed. That is a significant number. And all it takes is awareness and revaccination to control.”

Dr. Cochran’s experience with the disease, and lengthy and painful recovery, has inspired him to educate adults about the importance of revaccination. “The coughing gets so bad that I can’t get any air. My airway closes until the ‘whoop’ end of the cough occurs. It’s very frightening and extremely painful,” he said. “The CDC recommends that all adults between the ages of 19-64 should be revaccinated, along with healthcare providers. If more adults get their vaccines, then we’ll have more power to stop this horrible disease in its tracks.”

See the CDC website for a schedule of recommended adult vaccinations (PDF).

Source: Geisinger Health System, June 12, 2009

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