‘Whooping Cough’ is the short answer. Talk to anyone over 50 and chances are, they’ve had pertussis as a child. A real rib-breaker cough as I recall! Before we had the vaccine, there were nearly a quarter million cases a year in the US alone. Vaccine use in the US had brought that statistic to an all-time low in the 1970′s. Sadly, there are still more than a quarter million deaths of infants and children worldwide because of pertussis. Non-availability, misuse, and underused of the vaccine in undeserved nations leave many without protection against pertussis. It is highly communicable and especially dangerous for infants with tiny respiratory tracts. They are unable to clear trapped mucus preventing adequate oxygenation of the infant. Infants at the beginning of immunization series are not fully immune to pertusis and the bacterium invades quickly, lingers for weeks or more and can lead to very serious complications such as pneumonia, bleeding in the brain, or death. The CDC reports that from 2004-2008 there were 111 deaths from pertussis, and 83% were infants under 3 months of age. (US DHHS Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases/Pink Book/12th ed. p.217)
It was previously thought that once you contracted pertussis, a life-long immunity ensued. However, there has been a resurgence of pertussis for several reasons. First, we now know there was only temporary protection from reinfection. While we routinely immunized children and adolescents with Tdap (Tetanus, diptheria and pertussis), we re-immunized adults with “Td” leaving them vulnerable for pertussis. Second, disease is only a plane/ship/car ride away and a traveler can be in close contact with an infected individual of any age, anywhere. Unprecedented numbers of international travelers can transport diseases across continents within hours infecting communities. (Remember H1N1 in 2009?) And finally, some families have opted out of vaccination for their children, leaving their children and countless others around them at risk for contracting pertussis and other vaccine preventable diseases. The World Health Organization and our own CDC has recommended a Tdap for all adults especially grandparents, child and healthcare workers, anyone who lives with or cares for immune compromised folks, and travelers. Ask your primary care MD about pertussis and when you travel call HealthSmartVaccines 703-961-0733 to discuss this and other recommended travel vaccines!