Most of our patients at Willows Pediatrics have heard of the DPT vaccine, but fewer know a whole lot about the diseases it was designed to prevent. Today, in light of a recent outbreak in California, we would like to shed some light on the “P” in DPT: Pertussis. Before vaccines, pertussis (also known as whooping cough) was a common childhood disease that caused thousands of deaths annually back in the 1920s and 1930s. The development of a pertussis immunization in the 1940s and the acellular version (which we now use in the DPT shot) in the 1990s, has reduced the cases of this disease significantly.
However, pertussis still exists and is a highly contagious childhood disease. According to the CDC, a typical case of pertussis in children and adults starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks, followed by weeks (or even months) of rapid coughing fits that sometimes end with a whooping sound. It is most often transmitted via airborne droplets from a cough or sneeze or direct contact with the respiratory secretions from an infected person. When it comes to symptoms, pertussis is most severe in infants. It can lead to pneumonia, apnea, neurological complications (such as seizures), dehydration and even death.
While Connecticut, thankfully, has been spared a widespread outbreak of the disease, outbreaks in the past few years have included a May 2008 outbreak in California (which affected 300 kindergarteners) and a 2004-05 outbreak in an Amish county in Delaware (which resulted in 345 cases of the disease). In both situations, the affected populations contained an unusually high number of unimmunized children. Most recently, in June of this year, there was a major epidemic in California that affected over 1000 people.
Vaccinating children is by far the best way to prevent pertussis. Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, published a study in 2009 that found that parental refusal of pertussis vaccination is associated with an increased risk of pertussis infection in children. We, the providers at Willows Pediatrics, recommend that our patients receive their diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccines on the ACIP-approved schedule. This includes doses of DTaP at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years, as well as Tdap at 11-12 years of age. Patients who are behind schedule may receive “catch-up” doses as required. For more information, consult cdc.gov, or contact us.
As we head into the fall, when children are once again grouped together in small classrooms, it’s important to remember that just a few non-immunized individuals could lead to an outbreak of disease like pertussis. Check with your Willows pediatrician to be sure you’ve had your scheduled vaccinations and, if your child is due, schedule an appointment at your earliest convenience.
Have a healthy September! We look forward to seeing you for a well check-up soon!