The Tdap vaccine protects adolescents and adults against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). Every adult should get one dose of the Tdap vaccine if they did not receive it as an adolescent. Tdap is especially important for anyone who is in close contact with a baby younger than 12 months of age.
To best protect newborns from pertussis (also known as whooping cough), pregnant women should be vaccinated with Tdap during every pregnancy, preferably in the third trimester (between the 27th and 36th week of pregnancy). Family members and caregivers of an infant should make sure they are up-to-date on their whooping cough vaccinations (Tdap for adolescents and adults; DTaP for children) at least two weeks before coming into close contact with the baby.
View Every Child By Two’s Grandparents Toolkit to learn more about the importance of Tdap vaccination for adults.
Commonly known as lockjaw, tetanus is a severe disease that causes stiffness and spasms of the muscles. Unlike other vaccine-preventable diseases, which are transferred from person to person, tetanus bacteria are found in places such as dirt, dust, and manure, and can therefore never be eradicated. The bacteria enter the body through any break in the skin, such as a cut or a puncture wound. A person can also be infected after a burn or animal bite.
There’s no cure for tetanus. Treatment focuses on managing complications until the effects of the tetanus toxin resolve. Deaths from tetanus occur most in people who haven’t been immunized.
Learn more about tetanus.
Diphtheria is a serious bacterial disease that can be spread from an infected person by coughing and sneezing. Diphtheria can also be spread by contaminated objects or foods.
Once infected, toxins, which are caused by the bacteria, can spread through the bloodstream to other organs and cause significant damage including injury to the heart, kidneys and other organs. Nerve damage and paralysis can also result.
Learn more about diphtheria.
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is still common in the United States, and outbreaks still occur. Recently between 10,000 and 50,000 cases have been reported each year.
Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease that spreads easily from person-to-person through coughing and sneezing. It can cause a severe hacking cough that and may be followed by a high-pitched gasp for breath that sounds like a “whoop.” In adults, pertussis usually starts like a common cold, but then the coughing gets worse and may last for weeks or even months.These coughing spells can leave adults gasping for breath and unable to sleep, and can cause cracked ribs and hospitalization.
In adults, pertussis infection may cause coughing spells that are so severe that infected people may find it hard to breathe, eat and sleep. Pertussis can also lead to pneumonia or hospitalization in adults.
People of all ages can be affected by pertussis; however, pertussis can be particularly dangerous, and even deadly, for infants under 12 months of age. Babies who get pertussis often catch it from family members, including grandparents, who may not even know they have the disease. In fact, most unvaccinated children living with a family member with pertussis will contract the disease. That’s why it’s particularly important that parents, grandparents, family members, and other caregivers make sure they are up-to-date with their whooping cough vaccinations (Tdap for adolescents and adults; DTaP for children) at least two weeks before coming into contact with infants and young children.
To view a video of an adult episode of a pertussis cough, please click here.
Learn more about pertussis