Protecting yourself against whooping cough

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An Indianapolis high school is on alert, after a student is diagnosed with whooping cough. The school says the student was vaccinated in accordance with state law, but contracted the bacterial infection anyway.

The student attends Heritage Christian School on the Northeast side, and the school sent a  letter home to parents. Doctors say even though vaccination is the best defense, it obviously doesn’t provide total protection.

The technical term is pertussis, but no matter what you call it, it’s nasty.

“It usually starts off like a cold, but what really defines it are the fits of coughing that often end either in a gasp, which gives it it’s whooping cough name, or sometimes can end with people throwing up at the end of a coughing fit,” said Dr. Christopher Belcher, an infectious disease doctor at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.

The student here at Heritage Christian School did follow the state law to be vaccinated, but still caught it.

“And that’s not unusual with a vaccine that has an efficacy of about 80-percent. That one in five people may remain susceptible and they tend to get susceptible with time as well,” said Dr. Belcher.

Pertussis is most common in infants. Almost 50,000 cases were told to the CDC last year, including 18 deaths. The agency says children ages two, four, six and 15 months should be given the combined Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis Vaccine. Pre-school kids, between 4 and 6 years old should get a similar DTaP vaccine. It’s suggested once again between 11 and 12 years old as a booster, and as an adult over 19 for anyone who didn’t get it during adolescent years.

“People get this disease again and again because it’s not one of those one time in a life diseases. Your immunity wears off and you catch it every decade or so during life,” said Dr. Belcher.

Because whooping cough is spread through droplets, doctors say more ways to protect yourself and others are to cough in to your shoulder or elbow. Good hand-washing habits are also good. Pertussis is treated through antibiotics.

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