Whooping cough, more formally known as pertussis, is a contagious disease that's especially dangerous for young children, who can die of it. And 2012 has brought a big upswing.
Nearly 18,000 cases of pertussis have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control so far this year—more than twice as many as at this time last year—and nine babies have died of it. "We may need to go back to 1959 to find a year with as many cases reported by this time so far," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases for the CDC. "So there is a lot of pertussis out there and I think there may be more coming to a place near you."
Although the whooping cough vaccine is part of the standard vaccination schedule, immunity can wear off with time, so adults are encouraged to get a booster vaccine, called the Tdap every ten years. All of us should do this, but it's crucial if you spend time around a baby or young child. Typically babies receive their pertussis vaccines (part of a shot called the DTaP) at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months and 4-6 years, and before they're vaccinated they're highly vulnerable to the disease. "Pertussis is most dangerous for babies and very young children," Schuchat.
That's why getting a Tdap booster is so important if you'll be spending time with a grandchild or other young child. If you're not sure if you're received one yet, you probably haven't: "In 2010, only 8 percent of adults had any history of receiving a Tdap booster," says Schuchat. "I know we can do better than this. We need to do better than this."
By the way, despite what you might be thinking, the CDC authorities say that the current pertussis outbreaks aren't caused by parents refusing to vaccinate their children. "We know there are places around the country where there are large numbers of people who aren't vaccinated. However, we don't think those exemptors are driving this current wave," says Schuchat. "We think it is a bad thing that people aren't getting vaccinated or exempting, but we cannot blame this wave on that phenomenon."
More about adult vaccinations: