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Prevention is by generally by means of immunization. Prevention can also refer to persons exposed to whooping cough and given antibiotics.
For about fifty years vaccine against whooping cough has been used effectively to drastically reduce the number of infants who would otherwise die of whooping cough.
The traditional vaccine is prepared from killed Bordetella pertussis organisms and given in combination with diphtheria and tetanus toxoids in the first year of life. Some programs give three doses over about three months and others five over 5 years. There are many different programs in different countries.
The main effect of the vaccine is to greatly reduce the number of whooping cough cases in children. Although the children given direct protection in this way are not especially at risk from the disease (in the developed world) this protection indirectly stops their infant brothers and sisters (who are too young to be immunized) getting the illness and possibly dying from it.
In recent years a purer form of vaccine has become available and is gradually replacing the traditional type. It is known as acellular pertussis vaccine because it consists, not of whole cells, but various combinations of the several antigens known to play a part in natural immunity.
The new vaccine, as one might expect, is believed to be equally effective but causes fewer reactions when given. It is quite common for children not to complete a course of traditional pertussis vaccine because of severe swelling at the injection site, or fever and irritability for several hours afterwards.
Acellular vaccine is very trouble free and has been developed into forms that can be given to adults. It is probably a good idea to give a booster including pertussis at the age of about 15 years and every 10 years thereafter.
For the vaccine to be effective at reducing the incidence in children sufficient to protect infants, about 80% to 90% of children need to be fully immunized.
Whooping cough itself produces immunity which is strong and longlasting, but not 100%. It is not considered necessary to give immunization to somebody who has had the real thing. It is however possible to get it more than once, but it is unusual.
If somebody has been exposed to whooping cough then prophylactic antibiotics should be given if prevention is deemed necessary. It is believed that this can prevent infection occurring. Booster vaccine can also be given
The recommended antibiotic treatment is with Azithromycin or Clarithromycin. Dosage should be based on local prescribing recommendations. If this cannot be used then co-trimoxazole can be used. It is the same dosage for prevention as for treatment.
If an outbreak should occur in a community such as a school or nursery where there are vulnerable individuals, it may best be controlled with both antibiotics and booster immunization of all individuals. A booster dose can give extra protection in as little as 2 weeks.
Few countries recommend whooping cough boosters throughout life and it is logical to do so in the face of more transmissions from adults to infants. Mother to newborn, for example. Many people knowing this problem, and about to welcome a new arrival into a family, are seeking booster shots. In most countries there will be suitable vaccine available, usually the one that is used to boost diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and polio in children aged about 3 to 5, who have completed their primary courses of these immunizations.
The vaccine I am aware of in the UK that is licenced for adults and children of 3 and over is called Repevax and is made by Sanofi-Pasteur. This can be obtained from a pharmacy on prescription and needs to be given under medical supervision. It boosts tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis and polio.
In the UK it is not a public policy procedure and therefore the cost has to be borne by the patient. It is not known how often it should be repeated, but as a rule of thumb, most experts are likely to advise every 10 years until better information is available.
In the USA there is a similar vaccine called Adacel which is for 11-64 year olds. It contains Tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis vaccine. It is made by Sanofi-Pasteur.
There is also Boostrix (GSK) Tdap which is similar and licenced for 10 years olds and older in the USA. Boostrix does not appear to be available yet in the UK.