Immunising older adults against whooping cough is safe, say scientists

30 November 2012

Immunising older people against whooping cough has been found to be as safe as common vaccinations against other conditions like tetanus and diphtheria, scientists have said.

Despite worries over the vaccine, using tetanus-diphtheria-acellular-pertussis vaccine (Tdap) to stave off pertussis (whooping cough) was found to be safe, according to research published in the journal Clinical Infection Diseases.

Researchers looked at the electronic health records of almost 120,000 people aged 65 and over at seven different US health systems between January 1st 2006 and December 31st 2010.

The research investigated the number of medical conditions the patients experienced following the Tdap vaccine.

It was found that while there is a small increased risk of injection site reactions in the six days following the vaccination compared to other time periods, they are no more common than those following Td vaccination.

Researchers also discovered that patients who had been given a vaccine containing tetanus or diphtheria within the five years prior did not experience a higher rate of reaction from the Tdap treatment.

Lead author Hung Fu Tseng, from Kaiser Permanente Southern California's Department of Research & Evaluation, said that previously there has been limited safety data available as the vaccine was not originally licensed in the US for this age group.

"However, as the number of elderly individuals receiving Tdap increases, evaluation of the safety of the vaccine in this population becomes essential," he said.

The implications of this study are that adults over the age of 65 should be immunised with Tdap as it should not have a negative impact on health. Giving this vaccine to over-65s would hopefully cut the risk of Tdap in older people, as well as those they come into contact with.

Mr Tseng commented: "Recent outbreaks of whooping cough and infant deaths are a reminder of how serious these infections are and that pertussis immunisation is important, particularly since one of the most common sources of pertussis in infants is their relatives, including their grandparents.

"These findings should instill additional confidence for clinicians serving older adult populations in recommending the Tdap vaccine as a safe way to reduce the risk of pertussis infections."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain that the best way to prevent whooping cough is through immunisation.

The highly-contagious disease causes uncontrollable, violent coughing and can be lethal, with many infants dying from the condition. This is partially because children under two months are too young to be vaccinated from the condition.

It usually starts out as a persistent dry and irritating cough, which then turns into intense bouts of coughing. These are followed by a "whooping" noise, which is where the condition got its nick name.

Other symptoms to look out for include a runny nose, raised temperature and vomiting after coughing.

If the condition is caught early, antibiotics will often be prescribed to prevent it from being passed onto others, and other members of a household may often be given the treatment as a precautionary measure.

Children should be kept away from school or nursery until after they have completed a five-day course of antibiotics.


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