Whooping Cough Especially Dangerous to COPD Patients
The pertussis vaccine is vital for vulnerable members of the population
By July 25, 2012 2,546
By Alexandra Meier
Alexandra Meier is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Utah, pursuing a specialty in internal medicine.
As a COPD patient, you do everything possible to avoid exacerbation: washing your hands, avoiding sick people, quitting smoking, exercising, eating healthy, and getting your flu shot and Pneumovax.
But have you gotten the Tdap vaccine, or the adult pertussis booster?
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial illness that spreads quickly throughout the community, causing outbreaks like those recently seen in Ohio and California. In adults, mild cases typically cause flu-like symptoms, with a nagging, chronic cough. In more serious cases, symptoms can mimic an asthma attack, with prolonged coughing fits, followed by breathlessness, vomiting, and extreme fatigue, and may even be complicated by pneumonia, hernias and broken ribs. These symptoms often linger for months to even years, and can resurface with future respiratory infections.
With COPD, the severity of these symptoms can be even worse. While it may be difficult to differentiate some of these symptoms from your baseline COPD symptoms, or from a COPD exacerbation, if you notice a change in your baseline cough — particularly if you develop uncontrollable coughing fits or your coughing now disturbs your sleep or daily life — or if you develop any new symptoms like those listed above, you should see your doctor immediately.
It is important to be aware of these symptoms and seek treatment for a changed, unresolving cough, as unrecognized cases increase the likelihood of spreading infection, particularly to children, for whom pertussis can be deadly. More than half of children who get pertussis must be hospitalized. Children who are younger than a year old are at the greatest risk for severe complications. One in 10 of those infected at younger than two months will die. Over the past twenty years, there has been an increase in pertussis infection rates, especially among adults and adolescents. This is concerning, as roughly 75 percent of childhood pertussis infections are contracted from family members.
Vaccination against pertussis helps prevent infection. All children should be vaccinated. Due to waning immunity, anyone who was fully vaccinated as a child still requires an additional booster dose, i.e. Tdap, as an adolescent or adult. Those who were never vaccinated as children, and who are currently between the ages of 11 and 64, should receive a three dose series of vaccinations. Adults age 65 or older, who were never vaccinated, should receive a onetime dose of Tdap.
Vaccination is particularly important for those with COPD or other predisposing lung diseases.
As you continue to work to avoid your next COPD exacerbation, I encourage you to add the pertussis vaccination to your line of defense. With a simple vaccination you can protect yourself, and your loved ones, too! To find out more about pertussis and the Tdap vaccine, talk to you doctor.