A combination of inspiration, hope and heartache accurately describes the last 30 years of my career of treating pediatric infectious disease and working to develop vaccines that help prevent them. Vaccines have helped us come a long way in the battle against debilitating diseases, such as polio, smallpox, rubella and diphtheria. Still, epidemics of vaccine-preventable diseases erupt, sweeping through areas, spreading illness and claiming lives.
Right now the state of California is dealing with an epidemic of pertussis, or whooping cough. The number of cases of whooping cough reported so far this year in California is more than five times greater than during the same period last year. Sadly, seven infants there have died from whooping cough since the beginning of this year.
People may think that this is not a serious disease, but nobody wants it. Adolescents and adults can experience a severe cough, the complications of which can lead to vomiting and broken ribs. Babies younger than a year are most vulnerable to complications. For them, the disease can be fatal.
Vaccines can help prevent whooping cough, but only if people get vaccinated. Whooping cough is one of the many diseases that children are vaccinated against as part of the routine childhood immunizations. By ensuring that children get their recommended shots, we can help protect them from whooping cough.
Within five to ten years after completion of the childhood vaccination series, immunity to whooping cough can wear off. That's why a booster shot is routinely recommended adolescents and adults. The booster shot is called a Tdap vaccine, and it helps protect adults and adolescents against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. In my opinion, there are two things we can do to make even great gains in the battle against many infectious diseases. First, healthcare providers can make checking vaccinations records a routine for adults, not just children. Second, adults can ask their healthcare provider about the vaccinations that they need.
When I read about the whooping cough epidemic in California, an all too familiar sense of sadness took hold of me. Yet, I rally, knowing that there is still work to do. I am inspired by the vision of a day when vaccines are available--and used--to help protect people of all ages from pertussis.
You can learn more about whooping cough at helppreventwhoopingcough.com.