Interviewer: What is pertussis, what can you do about and can adults get it? That's next on The Scope.
Announcer: Access to our experts with in-depth information about the biggest health issues facing you today. The Specialists with Dr. Tom Miller is on The Scope.
Interviewer: If you get a nasty cough that will not just go away it might be pertussis. The odds are slim but it could be. To find out more about pertussis in adults we're with Doctor Tom Miller here at University of Utah Health Care.
Pertussis; tell me a little bit about it and then tell me how an adult can get it.
Dr. Miller: Pertussis was commonly known as whooping cough and occurred most commonly in children prior to the development of an effective vaccine, and it was deadly. A lot of kids died of whooping cough in the old days.
Interviewer: Another one of these things that the vaccines have made a huge difference, and we forget about it, right?
Dr. Miller: We forget about it and actually what's happened is that kids all in the United States generally get this vaccination for pertussis and it effectively prevents it, but as we get older our immune system forgets about exposure to the vaccine and immunity wanes. And you know what? People coming into the country who are not vaccinated can bring pertussis in.
It's a very highly infective bacteria so you don't need much in the way of bacteria to become infected. And when you are infected, if you are older you could end up with not whooping cough but something called the 100 Day Cough.
For a few days you just feel real crappy. You feel very poorly, you have a sore throat and you develop a cough. It's awful. It's what we call paroxysmal cough. It's deep, it's rapid, it's unending and it's so bad sometimes that it will make you vomit, throw up. It's terrible.
So that's why the recommendation now is that as an adult you should receive a pertussis vaccine with your tetanus and diphtheria vaccine. You only need that once in adulthood but if you don't have that you then are at risk to pick up pertussis should you run into a child or even an adult who might be carrying pertussis. And again, it doesn't take much in the way of contact to develop pertussis.
Interviewer: So how is it transmitted?
Dr. Miller: It's transmitted through vapor droplets. Somebody coughing, they can pick up the bacteria in that way. And again, it's highly infective. Many times patients don't know they have pertussis when they are adults because they don't have this barking whooping cough that the kids used to get. They just start with a cold, but the severity of the cough is the thing that makes physicians think about it.
Now, you can treat the patient once they develop the cough and it can get rid of the pertussis bacteria but it doesn't get rid of the cough, and that cough goes on and on and on, and it's a devil to treat if you can even treat it.
Interviewer: So I guess the message here is if you haven't had that pertussis booster, you should get that.
Dr. Miller: Get the booster. Absolutely.
Interviewer: It is something you see on occasion.
Dr. Miller: I do see it on occasion. In Utah, we have an increase in the rate of pertussis in adults because of our immigrant population. They're not always vaccinated when they come into the country.
Interviewer: International Airport.
Dr. Miller: The simple way to protect yourself is to make sure you get that booster.
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updated: January 2, 2019
originally published: June 28, 2016
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