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April 6, 2011

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Vaccination is most effective way to prevent pertussis. Boosters recommended for teens and adults.

(Richmond, Va.) – With spring break just around the corner and the opportunity to spend more time with family and friends, the Virginia Department of Health urges everyone to take precautions to prevent the spread of pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

“There has been a significant increase in pertussis in Virginia and most of the United States. From 2009 to 2010, there was a 72 percent increase in reported cases of pertussis in Virginia,” says State Health Commissioner Karen Remley, MD, MBA, FAAP. “Although pertussis traditionally occurs in cyclical peaks, the twofold increase in Virginia since 2007 is cause for concern.”

“The number of outbreaks continuing throughout the state means that babies too young to be vaccinated are especially at risk,” adds William B. Moskowitz, MD, president, Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and professor of pediatrics and medicine, chair of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology at VCU Medical Center. “Many of those infants are being hospitalized with serious disease.”

Pertussis is highly contagious and most severe in children less than one year of age, who can suffer lung infections, seizures and in rare instances, death. Infants often catch the illness from family members and other caregivers. To protect infants and those with underlying medical conditions, everyone should make sure they are up to date with recommended pertussis vaccines; DTaP for infants and children and the Tdap booster for adolescents and adults, because protection from the childhood vaccine diminishes over time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended a single dose of Tdap for persons 65 years and older who have close contact with infants or who wish to be protected. Tdap is also recommended for new mothers who are breastfeeding, if they have not previously received Tdap. Healthcare professionals, especially those with direct patient contact, should also receive a single dose of Tdap as soon as feasible.

Pertussis symptoms may include a cough lasting more than two weeks that increases in severity or that occurs in fits or spasms, coughing fits accompanied by difficulty breathing, gagging or vomiting, or a cough that is followed by a whooping noise. Pertussis can occur at any age, and symptoms in older children and adults may be a milder than those in children. Anyone with pertussis symptoms should seek medical evaluation and avoid public or group settings. If a person is exposed to pertussis or develops symptoms, antibiotic treatment may help prevent the disease or shorten the length of time the illness can be spread.

For more information, visit or call your local health department.


Last Updated: 07-30-2011

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