Be Well, Marsha 3/8/16

The cough that roars

By Marsha Bonhart

By definition, whooping cough is a bacterial infection that loves to live in your respiratory tract.  At first, it seems as if it’s an ordinary cold, but this contagious crud inflames your airways and creates thick, constant mucus. The bug is called Bordetella pertussis. Little kids—that is, those in late infancy and early childhood—make up the most at-risk group. Children in day care centers, adults who are in nursing homes, dormitories, unsanitary or crowded conditions and/or are pregnant all are at high risk to catch the Bordetella. If you catch it, you have inhaled the bacteria that someone else has coughed into the air.

While pertussis is the more decorous name, it’s the “whoop” sound when a patient struggles to breathe that gives us its more common application, “whooping cough.” In fact, the fits of coughing are so painful and uncontrollably powerful, people have been known to break ribs or capillaries—babies even stop breathing because they can’t cough hard enough. What should be equally examined is why the United States is still experiencing a health problem that’s been around forever and should be protected by a vaccine.

“The new vaccine provides reasonable short-term protection during the first year, but that protection wanes over the next few years and not much remains by about three years after vaccination,” Dr. Nicola Klein, director of a California vaccine study, explained in a recent New York Times interview.

Apparently, we can’t get rid of whooping cough. The article continues telling us there were more than 40,000 infections in 1959 in this country, which was a progressive decline from the 265,000 count. In fact, in the mid ’70s, only a thousand people died from it. But bringing pertussis statistics up to the 21st century in the United States, an outbreak killed 20 people after infecting nearly 50,000 just a few years ago in 2012. Two years after that, 13 people died from the bacterial disorder. “The levels at which it’s occurring now haven’t been seen in at least 50 years,” Klein added.

There is a new vaccine and booster that NYT reporter Roni Caryn Rabin found doesn’t work as well as the older version but is designed to have fewer side effects.  In some cases, the prior injection caused swelling, fever and in some cases loss of consciousness. The president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. Wanda Filer, explains to Rabin, “the older vaccine had some significant downsides—the new one is much better tolerated but may not be providing as robust protection.” Dr. Klein’s research showed teenagers who, three years after receiving the new immunization, had lost nearly all protection from it and nearly 90 percent were susceptible to being infected. These same teens, according to the article, even with the booster shot, had the highest incidence rate of pertussis of any age group in 2014.

Despite waning coverage from that immunization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia urges children, pregnant women and adults who are in contact with newborns to be protected. The Times article maintains the third trimester of pregnancy—weeks 27 through 36—is the time for the pertussis vaccine to be given. That’s when protective antibodies can be passed to the fetus.

Some researchers are lobbying additional vaccines should be given in advance of anticipated outbreak.

The whooping cough vaccine is an immunization that actually contains pieces of the germ itself. An article in Lifescripts describes it as DTaP, which is given to children to protect them against diptheria, pertussis and tetanus. Tdap, which also protects against pertussis, tetanus and diptheria, is given to children, adolescents and adults. DTaP is required at 2, 4, 6, 15 to 18 months and at six years of age. Tdap is selected for older kids, ages 11 to12 who have already finished the DTaP schedule.  Tdap is also suggested for children 7 to 10 years who have not been fully vaccinated, adults and teens ages 13 to 18 who did not get Tdap when they were 11 to 12 years old.

The schedule is not recommended for anyone has had a life-threatening allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine or has gone into a coma or seizure within seven days after a dose, epilepsy or any other nervous system health issue, an allergy to latex, Guillain-Barre Syndrome or a moderate to severe illness.

A whooping cough infection can knock you down with a hospital stay and long months of recovery. Your lungs may not even fully recover—leaving you prone to other respiratory infections that can create harsh side effects.

Be well,


For more information about pertussis, please visit

Marsha Bonhart is a freelance writer and public relations/marketing consultant in the Dayton area. She can be reached at  

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