Ask the Expert: What Should Parents Know About Whooping Cough?
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How can families know if they’ve been vaccinated for pertussis or need boosters?
Families can check with their doctor, but we [as doctors] generally vaccinate during the routine immunizations that usually start at 2, 4, and 6 months of age. These are then followed by a booster around 15 to 18 months, and another booster at 4 to 6 years—that is for their early childhood vaccination. Another booster, for adolescents, is given at 11 to 12 years of age. This is new. People who were adolescents and who may not have got it should check with their physicians. As of 2005, schools in New York City require children in 6th through 10th grade to have a Tdap vaccination [combined tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccines].
Any adult that is going to be in close contact with an infant should get this booster because most [adults] probably having waning immunity or are not protected against pertussis anymore.
Are there risks to getting vaccinated?
Getting pertussis itself is much riskier than getting the vaccine. Most reactions to vaccines are local reactions and that would mean redness or soreness around the injection site or general soreness or tenderness. Some kids get a little fever and some could be fussy or be tired—these reactions usually resolve one to three days after the vaccination.
Vaccines are like any medicine. In rare cases you can have more severe reactions like a severe allergy, a high fever, and, sometimes, seizures—but again those are very, very unlikely.
What should parents do if they suspect their child has whooping cough?
Number one, they should contact the child’s care provider. Ideally, they should keep their child out of contact with someone who is not immunized, as well as children under 6 months of age and young children who have not been evaluated, until their child has been evaluated themselves.
How long does whooping cough last?
People are contagious very early during the start of the infection up until two weeks after the cough begins. The symptoms last a really long time. The first stage is one to two weeks where people have symptoms that look like a common cold. Then they have two to four weeks of severe coughing and another few weeks of a gradual resolution of the symptoms.
Dr. Melissa Stockwell is the medical director of the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center Immunization Registry (EzVac) and co-director of the Primary Care Clinician Research Fellowship in Community Health. She also serves as a pediatrician at a community clinic. Her research revolves around immunizations (and lack thereof), health technology, and health literacy.