Whooping cough — known medically as pertussis — is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection. Although it initially resembles an ordinary cold, whooping cough may eventually turn more serious, particularly in infants. Whooping cough is most contagious before the coughing starts. The best way to prevent it is through vaccinations. The childhood vaccine is called DTaP. The whooping cough booster vaccine for adolescents and adults is called Tdap. Both protect against whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria.
Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis Vaccines
There are several formulations of vaccines used to prevent diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Some are combined with vaccines to prevent other diseases and reduce the total number of shots that someone receives at one office visit. In the U.S., DTaP, Tdap, and Td vaccines are most commonly used. One of these (DTaP) is given to children younger than 7 years of age, and two (Tdap and Td) are given to older children and adults.
Children should get 5 doses of DTaP, one dose at each of the following ages: 2, 4, 6, and 15-18 months and 4-6 years.
Td is a tetanus-diphtheria vaccine given to adolescents and adults as a booster shot every 10 years, or after an exposure to tetanus under some circumstances. Tdap is similar to Td but also containing protection against pertussis. Adolescents 11-18 years of age (preferably at age 11-12 years) and adults 19 through 64 years of age should receive a single dose of Tdap. For adults 65 and older who have close contact with an infant and have not previously received Tdap, one dose should be received. Tdap should also be given to 7-10 year olds who are not fully immunized against pertussis. Tdap can be given no matter when Td was last received.
(Upper-case letters in these abbreviations denote full-strength doses of diphtheria (D) and tetanus (T) toxoids and pertussis (P) vaccine. Lower-case “d” and “p” denote reduced doses of diphtheria and pertussis used in the adolescent/adult-formulations. The “a” in DTaP and Tdap stands for “acellular,” meaning that the pertussis component contains only a part of the pertussis organism.)