Health officials: Unimmunized adults, teens present risk to infants
April 12, 2012
VILSECK, Germany (April 12, 2012) -- Army medical professionals are encouraging adults and teens to get a tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis vaccine in an effort to shield infants from a preventable communicable disease.
The vaccine, often referred to as Tdap, is different from the tetanus-diphtheria shot adults get every 10 years; it has a pertussis component that aid persons from spreading pertussis to children and infants.
"Irrespective if you had the Td shot recently, you should have the Tdap now," said Victorio Vaz, an epidemiologist for Bavaria Medical Department Activity. "It is a onetime vaccine. This is a new vaccine that became available for teens and adults only in 2005."
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening complications in infants and young children, especially those who are not fully vaccinated, Vaz said. It is caused by bacteria and is transmitted by coughs or sneezes. The bacteria become airborne and anyone close who inhales the bacteria can become infected.
Pertussis can be fatal in babies less than a year old. Of those infants who are infected with the disease, half will be hospitalized; one percent of infants hospitalized will die; one in five will get pneumonia; one in a 100 will have convulsions; half of those hospitalized will stop breathing for a while; and one in 300 will have brain damage.
In the U.S., there are more than 20,000 reported cases annually, he said.
"Before the pertussis vaccine became available, there were hundreds of thousands of cases each year in the United States," Vaz said. "Worldwide, just to put things into perspective, you are talking about 30 to 50 million cases and 300,000 deaths a year."
Before 2005, there were no vaccines for people older than six with a pertussis component, Vaz said. Parents, people expecting a child, grandparents, child care providers, siblings and health care providers are highly recommended to get a Tdap vaccine. People who have or anticipate having close contact with an infant less than 12 months, including pregnant women, should receive a single dose of Tdap if they have not previously received the vaccine.
Unvaccinated pregnant women are encouraged to get the vaccine at or shortly after week 20 of the pregnancy, he said.
"Vaccination of pregnant women can protect them and their babies by passing their antibodies to the baby before the baby reaches an age where they start getting the vaccine," Vaz said.
Vaccines for infants are recommended at two months, four months, six months and a year. Vaccinated children are protected against the disease, but if a child becomes infected with the disease, he will have a milder case of pertussis, but Vaz insists it is important for those around children to be immunized.
"The Center for Disease Control and Prevention have been very concerned about the fact that there has been an increase in the number of cases in 10 to 19 age group and infants under 6 months of age," he said. "Of greater concern is the fact that infants are the ones that take the brunt of the disease in terms of hospitalizations and death. We want pregnant women to encourage other members of the household to come in for the vaccine."
The idea is to build a cocoon around children to protect them from being infected with pertussis, Vaz said.