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July 29, 2011 > Your Teen May Need a Whooping Cough Vaccination

Your Teen May Need a Whooping Cough Vaccination

New Rules Require Students to Get Immunized Before School Starts

If you have a child in middle or high school, he or she needs to get a whooping cough vaccination before going back to school this year. Whooping cough, also called pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease that can cause uncontrollable coughing. After California experienced a significant spike in cases last year, a law was passed requiring all students entering grades 7 through 12 to get a whooping cough booster called Tdap. Some students may have an additional 30 days after school starts to get vaccinated due to a new state law that gives schools the option of allowing students to attend class as long as they get the Tdap within 30 calendar days of the start of school.

According to the California Department of Public Health, there were about 8,000 cases of whooping cough in California last year, more than any other year since 1947. Previously, the peak was 3,184 cases reported in 2005.

"Whooping cough is a serious public health threat," said Ruth Traylor, community outreach director at Washington Hospital. "The disease is most contagious before the coughing starts, so students can easily infect each other and members of their household before they realize they have whooping cough."

The respiratory infection at first resembles an ordinary cold, but can turn serious and even deadly. Often a whooping sound can be heard as the infected person breathes in after coughing. The bacteria are spread from person to person when someone with the disease coughs or sneezes. The best way to protect against whooping cough is by getting a vaccination, according to Traylor.

"Those who have not been vaccinated or have lost their immunity over time, or people with compromised immune systems, are most at risk," she said. "Babies seem to be at greatest risk of death due to whooping cough. They are too young to be fully immunized."

While most adolescents and adults receive the Tdap, children under age 7 are vaccinated with the DTaP. Both formulations also protect against tetanus and diphtheria, Traylor said. Combining the vaccines reduces the number of shots needed, she explained.

It takes five doses of DTaP to build up enough antibodies to protect against whooping cough, she added. Babies get their first dose between the ages of 15 and 18 months and should have their fifth dose before they start kindergarten.

Booster Needed to Stay Protected

"The immunity from the vaccine wears off over time, requiring a booster shot to stay protected," Traylor said. "It is generally recommended that adolescents and adults get immunized against whooping cough every 10 to 15 years."

The dramatic rise in whooping cough cases last year focused attention on the need for adolescents and adults to get re-vaccinated against whooping cough, she added.

The new law takes effect this school year and affects all students in grades 7 through 12. Students in those grades will be required to show proof of a Tdap shot before starting school or within 30 days depending on the school, according to the California Department of Public Health. For the next school year (2012-2013), only students entering 7th grade will need to show proof of a Tdap.

Students can get the vaccine from their primary care doctor, Traylor said. To make it easier for families in the Tri-City area, Washington Hospital is offering special vaccination clinics at school sites in the Fremont and Newark Unified school districts, she added. To learn more about these special clinics, call (510) 608-3203.

For those without health insurance or a primary care provider, Washington Hospital is offering the vaccines through its Washington on Wheels (W.O.W.) Mobile Health Clinic. The W.O.W. van will provide walk-in whooping cough vaccinations (Tdap) every Tuesday at the Fremont Family Resource Center, 39155 Liberty Street in Fremont, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Parents should check with their child's school to determine whether their child must get the vaccine before starting school or if they have an additional 30 days to get the Tdap.

For more information about whooping cough and where to get the vaccine, visit or call (510) 608-3203.

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