Lack of Vaccination is Leading to New Outbreaks

Tetanus, diphtheria and Pertussis (Whooping Cough) can be very serious diseases.

Tetanus (lockjaw) causes painful muscle spasms and stiffness all over the body.
It can cause tightening of muscles in the head and neck so you cannot open your mouth or swallow, or sometimes even breathe. Tetanus kills about 1 out of 5 people who are infected.

Diphtheria causes a thick membrane to cover the back of the throat. It can lead to breathing difficulty, paralysis, heart failure, and even death.

Pertussis is a contagious respiratory infection that causes severe coughing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, and disturbed sleep. It can lead to weight loss, rib fractures and loss of consciousness from violent coughing. Older children and adults may have symptoms similar to a common chest cold. Infants are more likely to have serious complications that may lead to hospitalization and even death.

These three diseases are all caused by bacteria. Diphtheria and pertussis are spread from person to person. Tetanus enters the body through cuts, scratches, or wounds.

Children six years of age and younger get DTaP vaccine to protect them from these three diseases. But older children, adolescents, and adults need protection too. Two vaccines are available to protect people seven years of age and older from these diseases:
• Td (Tetanus-Diphtheria) vaccine protects against tetanus and diphtheria.
• Tdap (Tetanus-Diphtheria and Pertussis) is a vaccine for adolescents and adults that protects against Pertussis as well as tetanus and diphtheria.

Who should be vaccinated:
Two vaccines are available to protect people seven years of age and older:
• Td vaccine protects against tetanus and diphtheria.
• Tdap vaccine has been available since 2005. It is the first vaccine for adolescents and adults that protects against Pertussis as well as tetanus and diphtheria. Pregnant women who are not currently immunized need a Tdap vaccination after 20 weeks gestation.

A Td booster dose is recommended every 10 years. Tdap is given only once.

Lack of vaccination is leading to new outbreaks of diseases that many of us consider rare. In 2010, a whooping cough epidemic in California infected nearly 1000 people and cost five newborn babies their lives. Several active cases of pertussis have been reported recently in the Bennington area. Vaccination is the best way to prevent these diseases from becoming the killers they were in the early 1900s. It is important to properly immunize all family members in order to provide maximum protection against these preventable diseases.
Contact your primary care provider to get your Tdap vaccination now. For more information contact your local Vermont Health Department office at: 800-637-7347 or 802-447-3531.


Dr. Michael Thwing is a pediatrician at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC). To schedule an appointment with Dr. Thwing, call (802) 447-3930. To learn more about SVMC, visit svhealthcare.org. “Health Matters” is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.