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Sick Season

Whooping It Up

Tuesday, November 30, 2004; Page HE02

Need a Boost? Even if you manage to duck the flu this season, you may pick up another nasty respiratory ailment. Pertussis, or whooping cough, has been on the rise in the United States for two decades. Last year's 11,000 cases were the most reported since 1964; teens accounted for 39 percent of cases. Two drug makers (GlaxoSmithKline and Aventis Pasteur) are developing new booster vaccines for adolescents, who generally lose immunity from childhood shots by age 11. The effort has the backing of the Society for Adolescent Medicine. Both companies say they expect the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve their vaccines by the middle of next year.

Nature of the Threat Pertussis, a bacterial illness characterized by a rib-wrenching, often vomit-inducing cough that can last weeks or months, usually isn't life-threatening to teens and adults. But during its early phase, when the disease is notoriously difficult to distinguish from a bad cold, it can be easily passed to babies, whom it can kill. Children currently get pertussis vaccine combined with diphtheria and tetanus vaccine in five doses between ages of 2 months and 6 years. Treating pertussis with antibiotics can relieve symptoms -- but only if it's diagnosed early. (Unlike babies and small children, teens and adults don't typically make the high-pitched whooping, gasping sound that accounts for the disease's common name; these older victims just cough like crazy.) But there's still good reason to get antibiotic treatment: It helps stop spread of the disease.

_____More About Smallpox_____
In Nigeria, Talking Up Two Drops of Vaccine (The Washington Post, Nov 25, 2004)
More Flu Vaccine Available Soon (The Washington Post, Nov 14, 2004)
N.Y. Mayor Has Plans To Import Flu Shots (The Washington Post, Nov 11, 2004)
More on Smallpox

The Upshot If added to the standard vaccination schedule, the new shots (which also immunize against tetanus and diphtheria) would replace the tetanus and diphtheria boosters kids routinely get at age 11 and 12. While GlaxoSmithKline's Boostrix is meant for those ages 10 to 18, Aventis's Adacel would be available to those ages 11 through 64.

-- Jennifer Huget


© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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