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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Shots Not Just for Pre-Schoolers

Shots Not Just for Pre-Schoolers

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wed, Jul. 19, 2006

By Erika Jenssen, MPH

Do you realize that a cough that drags on for weeks or is especially severe might be whooping cough? Your doctor may call it "bronchitis."

Whooping cough is highly contagious and can lead to pneumonia and coughing so severe that ribs can be broken.

A recent outbreak of whooping cough (also known as pertussis) in our community serves as a reminder that this illness is common among adults, and that immunizations are important. And not just for pre-schoolers.

Most cases of adult pertussis go unreported because making the diagnosis requires an uncomfortable sampling from the back of the nose, and antibiotics don't help the cough though they may reduce contagiousness.

So far in 2006, Contra Costa County has reported 25 cases of pertussis, six among children under 1 year old, and 19 among residents ages 12-65. All of these cases could have been prevented by vaccination.

Because of the risk, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends children ages 11-12 and adults 21-65 receive a new tetanus booster (Tdap), which also prevents whooping cough.

Until recently, adult tetanus shots did not include protection against whooping cough.

When you take younger children for their required school shots, get additional immunizations for your adolescent children and the adults in your family. The new school year is right around the corner, and now is a good time to get immunizations for the whole family.

Though unpleasant, shots are much better than suffering the terrible symptoms and even death caused by many childhood diseases. Last year alone in California, seven infants died of whooping cough.

California schools verify each child's immunization record to ensure that all appropriate shots have been given. Here are the required shots for children and the recommended ones for adolescents and adults:

  • Before entering kindergarten, children need a total of five shots of DtaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), four of polio, three of hepatitis B, two of MMR (measles mumps, rubella) and one of varicella (chickenpox).
  • Adolescents should get the new tetanus booster (Tdap) even if they were vaccinated as babies. The booster wears off by the time they reach adolescence. Older teens and young adults who missed the Hepatitis B school entry requirement should get vaccinated for this serious illness.
  • High school and college freshman should get a meningococcal conjugate vaccine, which is recommended by the CDC to protect them from the most common bacterial meningitis, a disease that is especially likely to strike young people in group-living situations.
  • All adults up to the age of 65 need a tetanus diphtheria booster every 10 years. The new tetanus booster now adds pertussis protection, which is recommended for adults who may be around young children. And if you are an adult who has never had chicken pox, get vaccinated for that illness now.

For more information about immunizations, call your child's health care provider, the school nurse or Contra Costa County's low-cost immunization clinics.

No appointments are necessary at these clinics, but patients are seen on a first-come, first-served basis. So come early.

For more information, visit the Contra Costa Health Services' Web site at, or call 800-246-2494 or 925-313-6767.

Jenssen is the immunization registry coordinator for Contra Costa Public Health.

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