An ounce of prevention

by Katelin Whiddon

Usually at some point during the school year, we see an increase of whooping cough. We are asked, “Why is that? Is there anything to do about it? Do my kids need antibiotics?”

These are great questions, and the answer can be confusing, so let me offer a bit of clarification.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious, upper respiratory illness that comes on much like a cold. The infection can progress to severe breathing problems, especially in infants. Its classic, uncontrollable cough is known by the “whoop” noise that is heard when trying to take a breath after coughing.

This disease, along with tetanus and diphtheria, was once very common in the United States and caused many deaths. Thanks to the DTaP vaccine that is administered to infants and then again before kindergarten, we have nearly eliminated all tetanus and diphtheria in the U.S. But pertussis remains on the rise due to waning immunity and inadequate vaccination. We have had increasing numbers of outbreaks in Arkansas and throughout the U.S.

DTaP is the vaccine given at 2, 4, 6 and 15-18 months of age and again at 4 to 5 years old. It is used in kids under the age of 7. Tdap is the vaccine booster given at age 11. Traditionally, after these vaccines are given, it has been recommended to get a tetanus booster every 10 years (bad cuts or burns are a special case that may require it to be given sooner).

With the resurgence of pertussis, the CDC recommends the Tdap vaccine for all adults age 19 and older who have never received the vaccine. The Tdap is given only once in your lifetime. It is even safe for those 65 years and older. It is also now given to women during pregnancy. 

Anyone who is going to be near or caring for children (especially infants) should always stay up to date on this vaccination. It’s an inactive vaccine, made from dead bacteria components, so you can’t develop the disease from it. But remember you still need the Td (Tetanus and diphtheria) vaccine every 10 years.

There are a few people for whom the vaccine is contraindicated. Your health care provider will know if it is right for you. And you can find reliable vaccine information at

With antibiotic resistance on the rise, it is good medical practice for us to be more judicious about prescribing antibiotics. Whooping cough is extremely contagious and certain exposures will require antibiotic treatment to curtail the development and spread of the disease.

Every school year, our phone rings off the wall once parents get a notification from school about students developing whooping cough.

It is my hope that our phone will instead ring off the wall with parents wanting to vaccinate against this highly contagious, potentially fatal disease.

The old adage is true in this case: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.