Adults Need Whooping Cough Booster Shot, Too

Survey Shows Most Adults Don’t Know that Whooping Cough Remains Widespread in the United States, Despite Continued Outbreaks Nationwide

Friday, September 25, 2009

Megan Moriarty
Public Relations Strategist
American Academy of Family Physicians
(800)- 274-237, Ext. 5221

Many people may think of whooping cough as a disease of the past – something eradicated generations ago. However, the number of cases reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that whooping cough is still very much a public health concern; health experts estimate that up to 600,000 cases occur each year in adults alone.

Today, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) announces the launch of “Vaccination Matters: Help Protect Families from Whooping Cough,” a public health initiative about the importance of whooping cough vaccination for adolescents and adults.

A recent national survey revealed that more than three-quarters of adults (76 percent) didn’t know or didn’t think that whooping cough remains widespread in the United States. Many adults (61 percent) are not even aware that there is a vaccine for whooping cough.

“These survey results, along with CDC data and reports of whooping cough outbreaks, demonstrate the need to provide the public with more information about whooping cough and how to help prevent it,” said Ted Epperly, MD, FAAFP, president, the American Academy of Family Physicians. “For protection against whooping cough, health experts including the CDC and the AAFP recommend that most adolescents and adults get a single dose of the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis) vaccine to replace Td (tetanus and diphtheria toxoids).”

Whooping Cough Can Be Serious
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, can have a significant impact on a person’s health if contracted. A highly contagious respiratory disease, whooping cough can include a persistent, hacking cough severe enough to cause vomiting and even break ribs. The illness may last for up to three months or more, and may lead to pneumonia, hospitalization and missed work or school days.

People with whooping cough may not be aware they have it and can spread it to others, including infants and children. Babies who have not received all of their shots for whooping cough are especially vulnerable to complications.

Vaccines Are Not Just For Babies and New Parents
Protection against whooping cough wears off approximately five to 10 years after completion of childhood vaccination, leaving adolescents and adults susceptible to whooping cough. In the survey, the majority of adults (72 percent) were unsure or didn’t know this was possible.

While the survey found that most adults (73 percent) believed they were up-to-date on their vaccinations, the CDC estimates that only 2.1 percent of adults received a Tdap vaccine between 2005 and 2007. Yet, both the CDC and the AAFP recommend that most teens and adults get a single dose of the Tdap booster vaccine to replace Td for continued protection against whooping cough if they have not been previously vaccinated with Tdap or if their shots are not up to date. The Tdap vaccine is a one-time booster shot.

“People should talk with their doctor about getting up to date with the recommended vaccinations, including Tdap. This can be important for their health, and the health of their family and community to help reduce future whooping cough outbreaks,” Epperly said.

Even though outbreaks still occur, people may not know how whooping cough may affect them or what they can do about it. For Mark Judd, 47, South Bend, Ind., the experience was particularly eye-opening.

“When I caught whooping cough, I had no idea the disease was still around. It was much worse than any cold or cough I’d ever had. There were times when the coughing brought me to my knees and left me gasping for my next breath,” Judd said.

Family physicians offer expert information on whooping cough vaccination for adolescents and adults. The AAFP encourages adults to talk to their physician about whooping cough vaccination and the Tdap vaccine.

Visit ( more information.

About Whooping Cough

Whooping cough starts off like the common cold, but the illness can get worse. It is a highly contagious respiratory disease and may include symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and severe coughing fits. While more than 3,500 cases of whooping cough were reported in U.S. adults ages 20 years and older in 2007, many more cases may go unreported. In fact, health experts estimate that up to 600,000 cases occur in adults each year.

About the Survey – Abbreviated Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive via the QuickQuerySM online omnibus service on behalf of the American Academy of Family Physicians and GlaxoSmithKline from July 8 to 10, 2009 among 2,021 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. A complete survey methodology, including weighting variables can be made available upon request.

About the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)

Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 100,300 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care. Nearly one in four of all office visits are made to family physicians. That is 208 million office visits each year - nearly 83 million more than the next largest medical specialty. Today, family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty.

In the increasingly fragmented world of health care where many medical specialties limit their practice to a particular organ, disease, age or sex, family physicians are dedicated to treating the whole person across the full spectrum of ages. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship focused on integrated care. To learn more about the American Academy of Family Physicians and about the specialty of family medicine, please visit For more information about health care, health conditions, and wellness, please visit

The “Vaccination Matters: Help Protect Families from Whooping Cough” program is made possible through funding and support from GlaxoSmithKline.