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CDC urges whooping cough vaccine for adults

Adults should be vaccinated against whooping cough to stop its spread among infants, a federal advisory panel recommended on Wednesday.
/ Source: Reuters

U.S. adults should be vaccinated against whooping cough to stop its spread among infants, who are especially vulnerable to the potentially fatal infection, a federal advisory panel recommended on Wednesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's advisory committee on immunization unanimously approved the recommendation amid signs that whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is becoming more common, especially among teenagers.

Nearly 19,000 cases were reported across the United States in 2004, a sharp increase from previous years.

"This vote will help curtail that trend and help us stop the spread of pertussis," said Dr. Bill Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert and a member of the CDC advisory committee, which met in Atlanta.

Once a major killer in the United States, whooping cough is marked by spasms of coughing followed by vomiting and a "whoop" as suffers can finally suck in air. It occurs in all age groups, but is especially dangerous in newborns who have not yet developed strong immune systems.

Health experts advise that infants receive three shots of the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine at two-month intervals after birth, followed by a fourth dose about a year later and a booster between the ages of 4 and 6 years.

Immunity, however, only lasts between 5 and 10 years.

Prompted by rising numbers of cases among middle school and high school students, the CDC advisory committee recently recommended that adolescents between the ages of 11 and 18 receive a new vaccine known as Tdap, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, in place of the previously recommended diphtheria tetanus booster.

It extended that recommendation on Wednesday to include adults in order to protect vulnerable newborns from contracting the infection through exposure to an infected parent or other adult.

The recommendation, if followed, could also help reduce the number of adults who suffer from chronic coughs caused by pertussis, Schaffner said. The Tdap vaccine, however, is not licensed for use in seniors.