Vaccines & Diseases

Some vaccine-preventable diseases remain common in the United States. Others are less common, but still exist throughout the world and pose a serious health risk to people of all ages. Luckily, we have the ability to protect ourselves from 16 serious diseases during our childhood and teen years, and several additional vaccines to protect ourselves as adults. Learn more about these vaccine-preventable diseases and the vaccines that protect against them below.

Why It’s Critical to Vaccinate on Time

Families come to Vaccinate Your Family every year with heartbreaking stories of loss and disabilities caused by vaccine-preventable diseases. They have shared their stories to help others families avoid the same suffering. By reading these personal stories, reviewing commonly-asked questions about vaccines, and learning about each of the diseases that vaccines protect against, it is our hope that we will inspire you to ask your healthcare provider about the vaccines needed for your family at every stage in life.

Diseases Vaccines Protect Against

Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is a viral infection that causes an itchy, blister-like rash.  Chickenpox is very contagious to people who haven’t had the disease before or been vaccinated against it. The virus spreads mainly by touching or breathing in virus particles that come from the chickenpox blisters, and possibly through tiny droplets from infected people after they breathe or talk.

Even though chickenpox is relatively mild for some people, for others it can be a very serious disease leading to severe illness with complications such as infected blisters, pneumonia, bleeding disorders, swelling of the brain and even death.

Before the chickenpox vaccine was approved in the U.S., approximately 4 million people (mainly children) got sick with the disease each year. About 10,600 people were hospitalized, and 100 to 150 died every year as a result of chickenpox. Today, because of the vaccine, the number of cases and hospitalizations due to chickenpox is down dramatically. Once a person gets chickenpox, the virus remains in the body for life, and can reappear as shingles once the person is older.

The risk of hospitalization and death from chickenpox is increased in adults. Pregnant women and their newborns who get chickenpox are also at risk of serious complications from chickenpox.

Watch this video to find out why you never want to RSVP “yes” to a “Chickenpox Party”.

Symptoms

Chickenpox usually lasts about five to ten days. The most common symptom of the chickenpox is an itchy rash with small, fluid-filled blisters which begin on the back and chest. The blisters change to crusts in 1-3 days. It is common to see blisters and crusts at the same time. Other signs and symptoms, which may appear one to two days before the rash, include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Tiredness and a general feeling of being unwell
Prevention

The chickenpox vaccine (also known as the varicella vaccine) is the best way to prevent chickenpox in people of all ages. There is also a combination vaccine available for children called MMRV that combines MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) with varicella.

Babies and Children

For the best protection, your child needs to get two recommended doses of the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine. The first dose should be given between 12 and 15 months old, and the second dose is given between 4 and 6 years of age.

Adults

Hospitalization and death from chickenpox is increased in adults. If you are an adult who never got the chickenpox and never got the chickenpox vaccine, you need to get two doses of the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine.

Chickenpox vaccination is especially important for:

  • Healthcare professionals
  • People who care for or are around others with weakened immune systems
  • Teachers
  • Child care workers
  • Residents and staff in nursing homes and residential settings
  • College students
  • Inmates and staff of correctional institutions
  • Military personnel
  • Non-pregnant women of child-bearing age (to avoid complications of chickenpox during pregnancy)
  • Adolescents and adults living with children
  • International travelers

To make certain your family is up to date on their vaccines, check out the CDC’s recommended immunization schedules for children, teens and adults, and talk to your healthcare provider.

Diphtheria is a bacterial disease that can cause significant complications such as injury to the heart, kidneys and other organs. It can also result in nerve damage and paralysis. The disease can be spread from an infected person (including someone who carries the bacteria but has no symptoms) by coughing and sneezing. Diphtheria can also be spread by contaminated objects like toys.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of diphtheria usually begin two to five days after a person becomes infected and may include:

  • Painful swallowing
  • Sore throat and hoarseness
  • Swollen glands (enlarged lymph nodes) in the neck
  • A thick coating on the back of the nose or throat. It may white or grayish. The coating makes it hard to breathe or swallow.
  • Mild fever (101 degrees or less) and chills
Prevention

Vaccination is the best way to protect against diphtheria.  The vaccine for babies and children through 6 years old is called DTaP, and it protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (also known as whooping cough).

The vaccine for preteens, teens, adults and pregnant women is called Tdap, and it also protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough).

The Td vaccine, which is a booster vaccine recommended for all adults, protects against tetanus and diphtheria.

Babies and Children

For the best protection against diphtheria, children need to receive all 5 recommended doses of the DTaP vaccine. Your child should get a dose at:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • Between 15 and 18 months
  • Between 4 and 6 years
Preteens and Teens

The Tdap vaccine is the booster shot that helps protect preteens and teens from the same three diseases that the DTaP vaccine protects young children from. All preteens are recommended to receive one dose of Tdap when they are 11 or 12 years old. Teens who did not get the Tdap vaccine at that age should get it as soon as possible. Tdap is especially important for anyone who is in close contact with a baby younger than 12 months of age.

Adults

The CDC recommends that adults get a Td booster shot every 10 years.  To help protect against whooping cough, adults also need a one-time dose of Tdap vaccine. Instead of your next regular Td booster, ask your healthcare provider if you can get the Tdap vaccine instead. It’s fine to get the Tdap vaccine even if you were vaccinated with Td less than 10 years ago.

Being up-to-date with Tdap vaccine is especially important if you are around (or plan to be around) young children, since infants are particularly vulnerable to whooping cough and its potentially serious complications. If you are caring for babies, and haven’t received your one-time dose of Tdap, talk to your healthcare provider about getting this vaccine as soon as possible.

Pregnant Women

The CDC recommends that all women get a dose of Tdap vaccine during the 3rd trimester (between the 27th and 36th week) of every pregnancy. This helps protect both mom and baby from whooping cough (pertussis) and its serious complications. Learn more in the Pregnancy section.

To ensure that your entire family is up-to-date on their vaccines, check out the CDC’s recommended immunization schedules for children, teens and adults, and talk to your healthcare provider.

Haemophilus Influenzae type b (Hib) is a serious illness caused by a bacteria that most often affects children under 5 years old, requiring hospitalization in the majority of cases.

The most common types of serious Hib disease are meningitis (infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord), pneumonia (lung infection), bacteremia (blood stream infection) and epiglottitis (infection and swelling of the throat). Hib disease can cause lifelong disability and can be deadly.

Adults 65 years or older, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and people with certain medical conditions (i.e., sickle cell disease, asplenia, HIV infection, antibody and complement deficiency syndromes, and cancer requiring treatment with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or bone marrow stem cell transplant), are also at increased risk of Hib and its complications.

Hib spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Usually, the Hib bacteria stay in a person’s nose and throat and do not cause illness. But if the bacteria spread into the lungs or blood, the person will become very sick. Even with treatment, as many as 1 in 20 children with Hib meningitis will die. As many as 1 in 5 children who survive Hib meningitis.

Symptoms

Hib causes different symptoms depending on which part of the body is affected. These include:

  • Fever, headache, confusion, stiff neck, and pain when looking into bright lights (meningitis)
  • Poor eating and drinking, and vomiting (meningitis in babies)
  • Fever and chills, headache, cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain (pneumonia)
  • Fever and chills, excessive tiredness, and confusion (bacteremia)
  • Trouble breathing (epiglottitis)
Prevention
Babies and Children

For the greatest protection against Hib, all children younger than 5 years old should get all three or four recommended doses of the Hib vaccine (number of doses depends on vaccine brand). Your child needs doses at the following ages:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months (if needed; depends on brand)
  • 12 through 15 months

The CDC also recommends that unvaccinated older children with certain medical conditions, and for people who receive a bone marrow transplant, get the Hib vaccine. Talk to your healthcare provider about what is best for your child’s specific situation.

Adults

The CDC recommends Hib vaccine for unvaccinated adults with certain medical condition, and for people who receive a bone marrow transplant. Talk to your healthcare provider about what is best for your specific situation.

To see if your family is up-to-date on their vaccines, look at the CDC’s recommended immunization schedule for children, teens and adults, and talk to your healthcare provider.

Hepatitis A is a serious disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months.

Hepatitis A is usually spread by contact with people who are infected or from contact with objects, food, water or drinks contaminated by the feces of an infected person, which can easily happen if someone doesn’t properly wash his or her hands after using the toilet. Outbreaks of hepatitis A are occurring throughout the U.S. among certain populations.

Symptoms

Not all people with hepatitis A have symptoms. In fact, adults are more likely to have symptoms than children.  If symptoms develop, they usually appear two to six weeks after being infected and may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Dark urine
  • Gray-colored stools
  • Joint pain
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Severe stomach pains and diarrhea (mainly in children)
Prevention
Babies and Children/Preteens and Teens

For the best, long-lasting protection against hepatitis A, the CDC recommends that all children get two  doses of the hepatitis A vaccine (Hep A) starting at 1 year old. These doses should be given at least 6 months apart.

If not previously vaccinated, older children and adolescents can get the Hep A vaccine after 23 months of age.

Adults

Adults who have not been vaccinated previously and want to be protected against hepatitis A can get the vaccine.

People at Higher Risk for Hepatitis A

The CDC recommends the Hep A vaccine for the the following groups of unvaccinated people (1 year of age and older) who are at higher risk for hepatitis A:

  • You live in a community with a high rate of hepatitis A
  • You are experiencing homelessness
  • You are a man and have sex with other men
  • You use recreational drugs, whether injected or not
  • You work or travel to countries with high rates of hepatitis A
  • You have a chronic or long-term liver disease, including hepatitis B or hepatitis C
  • You receive blood products to help your blood clot/have a clotting-factor disorder
  • You are a family member of/caregivers of adoptees from countries where hepatitis A is common
  • You are in direct contact with others who have hepatitis A

Learn more about vaccines recommended for travelers, lifestyles and certain jobs.

To ensure that your entire family is up-to-date on their vaccines, check out the CDC’s recommended immunization schedules for all ages, and talk to your healthcare provider.

Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus. When a person is first infected with the virus, he or she can develop an acute (short term) infection. This severity of this infection can range from a very mild illness with few or no symptoms to a serious illness requiring hospitalization. Some people with acute infections are able to fight off the infection. For other people, the hepatitis B infection remains and becomes chronic (lifelong), possibly leading to liver failure, liver cancer or cirrhosis (a condition that causes permanent scarring of the liver).

According to the CDC, up to 1.4 million people in the U.S. may have chronic hepatitis B infection and each year about 2,000 people in the U.S. die from hepatitis B-related liver disease.

Hepatitis B virus spreads through contact with blood, semen or other body fluids from an infected person. People can spread the virus even when they have no symptoms. A person who is unaware that they have hepatitis B can still pass the virus to others.

Babies and children can get hepatitis B:

  • During birth (spread from infected mom to baby)
  • Through a bite by an infected person
  • By touching open cuts or sores of an infected person
  • Through sharing toothbrushes or other personal items used by an infected person
  • From food that was chewed by an infected person (There are some parents that pre-chew food for their baby, but this is not recommended).

Adults can get hepatitis B through:

  • Sex with an infected partner
  • Direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person
  • Sharing needles, syringes, or drug preparation equipment
  • Sharing items such as toothbrushes, razors or medical equipment (e.g., glucose monitor) with an infected person
  • Exposure to blood from needlesticks or other sharp instruments of an infected person
Symptoms

Not all people infected with the hepatitis B virus will have symptomsIn fact, many people with a hepatitis B virus do not know they are infected since they do not feel or look sick. However, they can still spread the virus to others.

Adults and children over the age of 5 years are more likely to have symptoms. The symptoms usually appear about three months after infection and can range from mild to severe, and may include:

  • Dark urine
  • Fever
  • Joint, muscle and stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea, diarrhea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
Prevention
Babies and Children/Preteens and Teens

For the greatest protection against hepatitis B, children need to receive all three recommended doses of the hepatitis B vaccine (HepB). Your child needs to be vaccinated at the following ages:

  • Shortly after birth (This first dose is critical and should be given to your infant within 24 hours of birth)
  • Between 1 and 2 months
  • Between 6 and 18 months

The Hepatitis B Birth Dose – The first HepB dose, given to your baby within 24 hours of birth, is a safety net. It helps reduce your baby’s risk of getting hepatitis B from you or your friends/family members, who may not know they are infected with the disease. It’s important to realize that hepatitis B is not strictly a sexually-transmitted disease and many people with hepatitis B have no idea how they got the virus.

When a mom has hepatitis B, there’s an additional medicine that can help protect her baby against hepatitis B, called the hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG). HBIG gives the baby’s body extra help in fighting the hepatitis B virus as soon as he or she is born. This shot works best when the baby gets it within the first 12 hours of his life. For the best protection, the baby also needs the full hepatitis B vaccination series.

All children and adolescents younger than 19 years of age who didn’t receive the Hep B vaccine when they were younger should also be vaccinated.

Pregnant Women

When a pregnant woman seeks prenatal care, she will be given a blood test to check for for hepatitis B infection. This is important because women infected with hepatitis B can pass the virus to their baby during birth. Newborns who become infected with hepatitis B virus have a 90% chance of developing chronic hepatitis B, which can eventually lead to serious health problems including liver damage, liver cancer and even death.

To help her baby fight against the hepatitis B virus, the baby will be given hepatitis B immune globulin (HBIG) within the first 12 hours of his or her life. The baby will also be given the full hepatitis B vaccination series.

Adults

The CDC recommends hepatitis B vaccine for unvaccinated adults who are at risk for hepatitis B virus infection.

You should get the hepatitis B vaccine if:

  • You have sex with or live in the same house as a person with hepatitis B virus infection
  • You have sex with more than one partner
  • You seek care in a clinic for sexually transmitted diseases, HIV testing or treatment, or drug treatment
  • You have HIV infection
  • You are a man who has sex with other men
  • You inject drugs
  • You have a job that involves contact with human blood
  • You are on the staff of, or a client in, an institution for the developmentally disabled
  • You are a hemodialysis patient or have end-stage renal disease
  • You are a dialysis patient
  • You have chronic liver disease
  • You have diabetes and are under age 60
  • You live or travel for more than 6 months a year in countries where hepatitis B is common
  • You seek care in a clinic for sexually transmitted diseases, HIV testing or drug treatment
  • You are a prisoner in a correctional facility
  • You want to be protected from hepatitis B

Learn more about vaccines recommended for travelers, lifestyles and certain jobs.

To ensure that your entire family is up-to-date on their vaccines, check out the CDC’s recommended immunization schedules and talk to your healthcare provider.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus that can cause six types of cancer  – cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, penis and throat cancers (oropharyngeal cancer). HPV also causes genital warts.

Around 80 million people in the U.S. are currently infected with HPV and about 14 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year.

HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women will be infected with the virus at some point in their lives without HPV vaccination. It can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms.

In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and people infected with the virus never knew they had it. However, when HPV does not go away, it can lead to serious health problems such as genital warts and cancer.

Every year in the United States, HPV causes approximately 32,000 cancers in men and women. The HPV vaccine could prevent approximately 90% of these cancers from ever developing, but only if given before people become exposed to the virus.

Symptoms

Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or groups of bumps in the genital area. A healthcare provider can usually diagnose warts by looking at the genital area.

HPV-related cancers usually don’t have symptoms until they are quite advanced, very serious and hard to treat. For this reason, it is important for women to get regular pap tests for cervical cancer (in addition to getting vaccinated against HPV).

There is no routine screening test for HPV-associated diseases other than cervical cancer, so its important to visit your doctor regularly for checkups, and get the HPV vaccine to prevent the cancers from ever developing.

Download the CDC’s graphic –Don’t rely on screening to catch it later. Protect them now with HPV vaccination.

Prevention

HPV vaccination is cancer prevention. HPV vaccination helps prevent six types of cancers caused by HPV in both men and women. HPV vaccination can also help prevent genital warts. 

Preteens and Teens

The CDC recommends that two doses of HPV vaccine be given to to children starting at 11-12 years of age. The vaccination series should be completed by age 13. The HPV vaccination works best when given at 11 or 12 years old.  In fact, cancer protection actually decreases as the age of vaccination increases. Preteens who receive their two shots less than five months apart will require a third dose of HPV vaccine.

If your teen hasn’t gotten the vaccine yet, talk to their healthcare provider about getting them vaccinated as soon as possible. Teens and young adults who start the HPV vaccination series between 15 and 26 years old will need three doses of HPV vaccine. Three doses of HPV are also recommended for people with certain immunocompromising conditions between 9 and 26 years old.

For the HPV vaccination series to be most effective, all vaccine doses should be given to your child before they having any type of sexual activity (before they are exposed to HPV).  There is no reason to wait to vaccinate until your child to reach puberty or start having sex.

Some parents may be surprised to learn that sexual intercourse is not necessary for HPV infection. Oral-genital and hand-genital transmission of some genital HPV types is possible. And, a person can become infected during their first sexual encounter.

Read the Shot of Prevention (SOP) blog post, Supercharge Your Kid’s Cancer Fighting Power, and see the answers to commonly-asked questions about HPV vaccination.

Adults

The CDC recommends that women not already vaccinated, get the HPV vaccine through age 26, and men not already vaccinated, get the HPV through age 21. (The CDC’s ACIP is reviewing data to determine if the HPV vaccine recommendation for men can be extended through age 26). The vaccine is also recommended for gay and bisexual young men, and for young men with compromised immune systems (including HIV) through age 26, if they did not get HPV vaccine when they were younger.

HPV Vaccine Safety

Numerous research studies have been conducted to make sure HPV vaccines are safe – both before and after the vaccines were licensed in the U.S. Before the three HPV vaccines were licensed for use in the U.S. by the FDA, each went through years of testing in thousands of people through clinical trials. After being licensed, the CDC and FDA have continued to monitor the safety of the HPV vaccines through the three surveillance systems in the U.S. Over 100 million doses of HPV vaccines have been distributed in the U.S. so far and HPV vaccines continue to have a good safety record.

Like any vaccine or medicine, HPV vaccines can cause side effects, but the most common side effects are mild. They include pain, redness or swelling in the arm where the shot was given; dizziness; fainting; nausea; and headache. The benefits of HPV vaccination far outweigh any potential risk of side effects.

To ensure that your entire family is up-to-date on their vaccines, check out the CDC’s recommended immunization schedules for children, preteens/teens and adults, and talk to your healthcare provider.

Additional Resources

Influenza (flu) is a serious, and potentially deadly disease, caused by a virus. Flu spreads through the air when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk, and other people nearby breathe in the virus. In fact, people with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. The flu virus can also be spread to adults and children when a person wipes their eyes or puts their hands in their mouth or nose after touching a surface that has flu virus on it. Flu spreads quickly through communities as the virus passes from person to person.

According to the CDC, each year between CDC estimates that influenza has resulted in between 9.3 million and 49.0 million illnesses; between 140,000 and 960,000 hospitalizations; and between 12,000 and 79,000 deaths every year in the U.S. since 2010. More than 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized and approximately 100 die as a result of the flu each year.  Sadly, the CDC reports that during the 2017-2018 flu season, over 79,000 people, including 185 children, died due to flu.

The flu season is unpredictable each year, but in the U.S. it often occurs from October to May, and usually peaks between December and February.

Serious complications of flu can result in hospitalization or death, even in healthy people. Some groups of people are at higher risk for flu complications:

Common Signs and Symptoms of the Flu:
  • Fever over 100°F (38°C)
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat

Questioning whether your loved one has the flu or just a cold? Flu usually comes on suddenly and has more severe symptoms than a cold. Although some people with flu have fever, not everyone with flu will have a fever. Learn more.

View the CDC’s emergency warning signs of flu in infants, children and adults.

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you are concerned that your loved one is in danger from these or other flu complications. Your healthcare provider may prescribe antiviral medicines, such as Tamiflu or the newly approved antiviral, baloxavir marboxil (Xofluza®).

Read how Vaccinate Your Family’s Executive Director nearly missed the warning signs when her infant son required hospitalization from flu.

Prevention

The CDC recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone 6 months and older. It’s important to note that it usually takes about two weeks after getting the vaccine for protection to begin. Additionally, research indicates that those with egg allergy are not at higher risk of allergic reactions from flu vaccines and are recommended to receive an annual vaccination.

Even though the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies season to season, and in different age groups, studies show that flu vaccination can:

  • Keep you from getting sick with flu.
  • Reduce the severity of your illness if you got vaccinated, but still get sick from flu.
  • Reduce the risk of children dying from flu.
  • Reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization for children, working age adults, and older adults.
  • Help protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness due to age and/or certain chronic health conditions.
  • Be an important preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions.
  • Help protect women during and after pregnancy.

Visit your healthcare provider or pharmacist to get flu vaccines for your family every flu season – as soon as its available in your area. To find a location near you where you can get vaccinated, visit HealthMap Vaccine Finder.

Babies, Children, Preteens and Teens

The CDC recommends that all children (6 months of age and older) should get a flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available each year.

  • Children 6 months through 8 years getting vaccinated against the flu for the first time, and those who have only previously gotten one dose of vaccine, should get two doses of flu vaccine this season.
    • These doses must be given at least 28 days apart. If your child needs two doses of vaccine, begin the process early to help make sure that your child is protected before flu starts circulating in your community.
    • The first dose “primes” the immune system, and the second dose provides immune protection. Children who only get one dose, but need two doses can have reduced or no protection from a single dose of flu vaccine.
  • Since children under 6 months old cannot be vaccinated, the best way to protect them from flu is to make sure everyone around them is vaccinated.

Flu vaccine can be lifesaving in children. A study published in Pediatrics shows that flu vaccination significantly reduced a child’s risk of dying from flu. The study looked at data from four different flu seasons and found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of death from flu-associated death by half (51%) among children with underlying high-risk medical conditions and by nearly two-thirds (65%) among healthy children.

Pregnant Women

Getting the flu can cause serious problems for a pregnant woman and her baby. Changes in a pregnant woman’s immune, heart, and lung functions during pregnancy make her more likely to become very sick from the flu. In addition, pregnant women with the flu are at higher risk of hospitalization, and even death, than non-pregnant women. If a pregnant woman becomes severely ill from the flu, it can also be dangerous to her baby because it increases the chance for serious problems, such as premature labor and delivery, and birth defects.

So, if you are pregnant during flu season, the best way to protect both yourself and your baby from the flu is to get vaccinated. The flu shot is safe, during any trimester, for both pregnant women and their unborn babies. Learn more about flu vaccination during pregnancy.

It is also safe for women to get the flu vaccine while breastfeeding. In fact, breastfeeding also helps to protect babies because breast milk passes your antibodies to your baby, and these antibodies help fight off infection. If you missed getting the flu shot while you were pregnant, it is important to get vaccinated before leaving the hospital.

Since infants cannot be vaccinated against the flu until they are 6 months old, it is important that everyone who will be around your newborn be vaccinated against the flu.

Adults

All adults should get a flu vaccine every year. Even healthy adults of all ages can become seriously ill from the flu. By vaccinating everyone in your family, every year, you can help reduce the number of people who become sick and die from flu.

Studies have shown that flu vaccination is very important for people with chronic health conditions. Flu vaccination:

Additionally, because immune defenses weaken as we get older, people 65 years and older also need to make sure they get the flu vaccine every year. This age group is at greater risk of serious complications. The CDC estimates that between 80-90% of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older, and between 50-70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in this age group. Flu vaccination has been shown to reduce flu illnesses and more serious flu outcomes that can result in hospitalization or even death in older people.

Although the CDC doesn’t recommend one flu vaccine over another, there are two vaccines that were designed specifically for people 65 years of age and older – Fluzone High-Dose and the flu vaccine with adjuvant (FLUAD)

Additional Resources

Measles is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus. The disease spreads quickly and can be serious or even fatal for small children. The disease kills hundreds of thousands of children each year around the world, most under the age of 5.

Even in previously healthy children, measles can be a serious illness requiring hospitalization. As many as 1 out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, and about 1 child in every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis. (This is a swelling of the brain that can lead to convulsions, and can leave the child deaf or intellectually disabled.)

Over the recent years, measles has re-emerged as a threat in the United States. Since 2014, over 1,000 cases of measles have occurred in the U.S., and the majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated.

Learn more about current outbreaks of measles in the U.S.

Symptoms

Measles signs and symptoms appear 7 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Signs and symptoms of measles typically include:

  • High fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Red eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • A skin rash of tiny red spots that starts at the head and spreads to the rest of the body
  • Ear infection
  • Diarrhea

**If you suspect you or one of your family members has been exposed to measles, do not go to your doctor or healthcare provider. Instead, call them and explain the situation. Measles is highly contagious and could infect others in the public and in the waiting room if you have been exposed to the disease. Your healthcare provider will be able to tell you the next steps to take to protect yourself, your family and your community.

Prevention
Babies and Children

For the best protection against measles, your children need to receive the two recommended doses of the MMR vaccine. One dose of MMR vaccine is about 93% effective at preventing measles, and two doses are about 97% effective. The doses should be given between 12 and 15 months and between 4 and 6 years of age.

If you are traveling internationally with children, please see the CDC’s recommendations  below.

Adults

People born after 1957 who have not had the measles or the MMR vaccine (and don’t show evidence of immunity) should receive at least one dose of the MMR vaccine.

International Travelers (All ages)

People 6 months of age and older who will be traveling internationally should be protected against measles. Before any international travel, the CDC recommends:

  • Infants 6 through 11 months of age should receive one dose of MMR vaccine. Infants who get one dose of MMR vaccine before their first birthday still need two more doses at the regularly recommended ages
  • Children 12 months of age and older should receive two doses of MMR vaccine separated by at least 28 days.
  • Teenagers and adults who do not have evidence of immunity against measles should get two doses of MMR vaccine separated by at least 28 days.

To ensure that your entire family is up-to-date on their vaccines, check out the CDC’s recommended immunization schedules and talk to your healthcare provider.

Meningococcal disease is a bacterial illness that can become very serious, very quickly. It often strikes without warning – even in healthy people.

The two most severe and common forms of meningococcal disease are meningitis and septicemia.  Meningitis is an infection of the fluid and lining around the brain and spinal cord and can lead to brain damage, hearing loss, learning disabilities, and even death. Septicemia is a bloodstream infection, which can lead to loss of an arm or leg and even death.

Even with treatment, about about 10 to 15 out of 100 people with meningococcal disease will die. Of those who survive, about 1 to 2 will have permanent disabilities such as brain damage, hearing loss, loss of kidney function or limb amputations. Approximately 600 -1,000 people get meningococcal disease in the U.S. each year.

The bacteria that causes this infection can spread when people have close or lengthy contact with someone’s saliva, such as through kissing or coughing, especially if they are living in the same place.

Children under 1 year old, teens and young adults are at increased risk for meningococcal disease.

Serogroups of Meningococcal Disease

There are five major serogroups of meningococcal disease: A, C, W, Y and B. One-third of meningococcal disease cases in the U.S. are serogroup B. Serogroup B meningococcal disease is the most common cause of disease in adolescents and young adults, and has caused several outbreaks on college campuses in recent years.

Learn more about meningococcal disease and outbreaks.

Symptoms

It’s easy to mistake the early signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease for the flu. Signs and symptoms may develop over several hours or over one or two days, and may include:

  • Sudden high fever
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Vomiting or nausea with headache
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Seizures
  • Sleepiness or difficulty waking up
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Lack of interest in drinking and eating
  • Skin rash

The symptoms of meningococcal disease are the same for all of the serogroups.

Prevention

There are two vaccines that protect against meningococcal disease:

  • The meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) protects against four of the five types (serogroups) of meningococcus – A, C, Y, and W-135.
  • The meningococcal serogroup B vaccine protects against serogroup B of meningococcus.
Babies and Children/Preteens and Teens

The CDC recommends that all adolescents receive two doses of the MenACWY vaccine. Your child needs the first dose at 11-12 years old, with a second “booster” dose at 16 years old.

Less than one-third of children who received the first dose of MenACWY have received the second “booster” dose, so please talk to your healthcare provider to determine if your child is up-to-date.

In addition, the CDC recommends MenACWY for children who are between 2 months and 10 years old, if they:

  • Have a rare type of disorder (complement component deficiency)
  • Are taking the medicine called Soliris®
  • Have a damaged spleen or their spleen has been removed
  • Have HIV
  • Are traveling to or residing in countries in which the disease is common
  • Are part of a population identified to be at increased risk because of a serogroup A, C, W, or Y meningococcal disease outbreak

The CDC also recommends MenB vaccine for children 10 years or older, if they:

  • Have a rare type of disorder (complement component deficiency)
  • Are taking a medicine called Soliris®
  • Have a damaged spleen or their spleen has been removed
  • Are part of a population identified to be at increased risk because of a serogroup B meningococcal disease outbreak

MenB vaccine may also be given to anyone 16-23 years old to provide short-term protection against most strains of serogroup B meningococcal disease.

  • The preferred age for MenB vaccination is between 16 and 18 years old.
  • Since the MenB vaccine is not routinely recommended for all teens/young adults, many people have not received this vaccine. Please talk to your healthcare provider to determine if your child should get this vaccine.
Adults

Meningococcal vaccines are recommended for certain groups of adults at increased risk for meningococcal disease. Adults should get MenACWY vaccine if they:

  • Have a rare type of disorder (complement component deficiency)
  • Are taking a medicine called Soliris®
  • Have a damaged spleen or their spleen has been removed
  • Have HIV
  • Are a microbiologist who is routinely exposed to Neisseria meningitidis
  • Are traveling to or residing in countries in which the disease is common
  • Are part of a population identified to be at increased risk because of a serogroup A, C, W, or Y meningococcal disease outbreak
  • Are not up-to-date with this vaccine and are a first-year college student living in a residence hall (dorm)
  • Are a military recruit

Adults should get MenB vaccine if they:

  • Have a rare type of disorder (complement component deficiency)
  • Are taking a medicine called Soliris®
  • Have a damaged spleen or their spleen has been removed
  • Are a microbiologist who is routinely exposed to Neisseria meningitidis
  • Are part of a population identified to be at increased risk because of a serogroup B meningococcal disease outbreak

To ensure that your entire family is up-to-date on their vaccines including meningococcal, check out the CDC’s recommended immunization schedules and talk to your healthcare provider.

Additional Resources

Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a virus. It is spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing and through close contact (even regular conversation) with infected people. The primary, and best known, sign of mumps is swollen salivary glands that cause the cheeks to puff out.

While usually a mild disease, mumps can also cause complications such as meningitis (swelling of the brain and spinal cord) and deafness. In addition, about one out of every four teenage or adult men who get mumps will develop a painful swelling of the testicles which can, although rarely, lead to sterility.

Outbreaks in the U.S. continue to put people at risk of mumps and its complications. Since 2016, there have been over 12,800 cases of mumps, which were mainly reported on college campuses where people live in close contact. View Mumps Outbreak-Related Questions and Answers.

Symptoms

Some children infected with the mumps virus have either no signs or symptoms or very mild ones. When signs and symptoms do develop, they usually appear about two to three weeks after exposure to the virus and may include:

  • Swollen glands under the ear or jaw
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle aches
Prevention

Vaccination provides the best protection against mumps. There are two mumps-containing vaccines available in the U.S. – the MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. The MMRV vaccine protects against measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chickenpox).

Babies and Children

For the best protection against mumps, the CDC recommends that children get two doses of MMR vaccine:

  • The first dose at 12 through 15 months of age
  • The second dose at 4 through 6 years of age

Children may also receive the MMRV vaccine. The CDC recommends that children get one dose of MMRV vaccine at 12 through 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age. Your child’s healthcare provider can help you decide whether to use the MMRV or MMR vaccine.

Teens/Young Adults

The CDC recommends that students at post-high school educational institutions who do not have evidence of immunity need two doses of MMR vaccine, separated by at least 28 days.

Adults

The CDC recommends that adults who do not have evidence of immunity should get at least one dose of MMR vaccine.

International travelers

Mumps remains a common disease in many parts of the world. Anyone who is not protected against mumps is at risk of getting infected when they travel internationally. Before traveling internationally, the CDC recommends that people should be protected against mumps:

  • Infants 6 months to 11 months old should have 1 dose of MMR shot  (Children will still need 2 more doses of MMR at the routinely recommended ages).
  • Children 12 months of age or older should have two doses of MMR vaccine, separated by at least 28 days.
  • Teenagers and adults without evidence of immunity (protection) to mumps should have two doses of MMR vaccine, separated by at least 28 days.

To ensure that your entire family is up-to-date on their vaccines, check out the CDC’s recommended immunization schedules for children, adolescents and adults, and talk to your healthcare provider.

Pneumococcal disease is caused by a bacteria called pneumococcus. The disease is often mild, but can cause serious symptoms, lifelong disability and even death. Pneumococcal disease is spread by coughing and sneezing.

Types of pneumococcal disease include pneumonia (lung infection), meningitis, bloodstream infections (bacteremia and sepsis), middle ear infections and sinus infections. Children younger than 2 years of age are most likely to have a serious case of pneumococcal disease.

According to the CDC, each year in the United States, pneumococcus causes thousands of cases of pneumonia and ear infections. Additionally, about 2,000 cases of serious pneumococcal disease occur each year in children under 5 in the U.S. These illnesses can lead to disabilities such as deafness, brain damage, or loss of arms or legs. About 1 in 15 children who get pneumococcal meningitis will die. About 1 in 5 children with bacteremia will die.

Since there are more than 90 known types of pneumococcal bacteria that cause disease, a previous pneumococcal infection will not protect you from getting the disease again. Therefore, pneumococcal vaccines are still recommended for people who have had pneumococcal disease in the past.

Symptoms

Symptoms depend on the type of pneumococcal disease, but generally include fever and/or chills. Additional symptoms may include:

  • Cough, rapid breathing or difficulty breathing, and chest pain (pneumonia)
  • Stiff neck, headache, confusion and pain when looking at bright lights (meningitis)
  • Poor eating and drinking, low alertness, and vomiting (meningitis)
  • Low alertness (bacteremia)
  • Ear pain, red/swollen ear drum and sleepiness (middle ear infection)
Adults

The major types of pneumococcal disease are pneumonia (lung infection), bacteremia (blood infection), and meningitis (infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord). Less severe illnesses include ear and sinus infections. Pneumonia is the most common form of pneumococcal disease in adults.

Adults 65 years or older are at increased risk for pneumococcal disease. In addition, some adults 19 through 64 years old are also at increased risk, including those:

  • With chronic illnesses (lung, heart, liver, or kidney disease; asthma; diabetes; or alcoholism)
  • With conditions that weaken the immune system (HIV/AIDS, cancer, or damaged/absent spleen)
  • Living in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities
  • Who smoke cigarettes

According to the CDC, each year in the United States, about 900,000 Americans get pneumococcal pneumonia and about 5-7% die from it. Additionally, as many as 400,000 hospitalizations from pneumococcal pneumonia are estimated to occur every year in the U.S. Most pneumococcal deaths in the United States are in adults.

Prevention

Pneumococcal vaccines are the best way to prevent pneumococcal disease in children, teens and adults. There are two types of pneumococcal vaccine  – pneumococcal conjugate vaccination (PCV13) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (also known as PPSV23).

Babies and Children

The CDC recommends pneumococcal conjugate vaccination (PCV13) for all children younger than 2 years old. For the best protection children need to receive all four recommended doses of the vaccine. Your child will need one dose at each of the following ages:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 12 through 15 months
Adults

The CDC recommends 2 pneumococcal vaccines for all adults 65 years or older.

  • You should receive a dose of PCV13 first, followed by a dose of PPSV23 at least 1 year later.
  • If you already received any doses of PPSV23, get the dose of PCV13 at least 1 year after the most recent PPSV23 dose.
  • If you already received a dose of PCV13 at a younger age, the CDC does not recommend another dose.

*It is also important to get an influenza vaccine every year because having the flu increases your chances of getting pneumococcal disease.

People 2 through 64 years old with Certain Medical Conditions and/or Who Smoke Cigarettes

The CDC recommends also vaccination with the PCV13 vaccine for:

And vaccination with the PPSV23 vaccine for:

To ensure that your entire family is up-to-date on their vaccines, check out the CDC’s recommended immunization schedules and talk to your healthcare provider.

Polio is a potentially crippling and deadly disease caused by a virus that spreads from person to person. It can invade the brain and spinal cord resulting in paralysis.

Before the polio vaccine was available, an average of 50,000 cases were reported in the United States each year. Polio was one of the most dreaded childhood diseases of the 20th century with annual epidemics, primarily during the summer months. This often left thousands of victims — mostly children — permanently in braces, crutches, wheelchairs or in iron lungs. Because polio can paralyze the diaphragm, in the 1940s and 1950s, entire wards of hospitals housed polio victims who were dependent on large iron lungs to breathe for them.

Although the U.S. has been successful at eliminating polio it is still occurring in parts of the world and therefore we must continue to vaccinate to protect our children. Learn more about Rotary’s efforts to eliminate rotary around the world.

Symptoms

Polio can cause paralysis. Signs of paralytic polio may include:

  • Loss of reflexes
  • Severe muscle aches or spasms
  • Loose and floppy limbs (flaccid paralysis), often worse on one side of the body

Polio does not always cause paralysis, and people with polio don’t always show symptoms. If symptoms of nonparalytic polio appear, they may include:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Pain or stiffness in the back, neck, arms or legs
  • Muscle spasms or tenderness
Prevention

Since polio has no cure, polio vaccination is the best way to protect children and the only way to stop the disease from spreading. There are two types of vaccine that can prevent polio – inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and oral polio vaccine (OPV). Since 2000, only IPV has been used in the U.S.; however, OPV is still used throughout most of the world.

Babies and Children

For the most protection against polio, your children need to receive all of the recommended doses of the polio vaccine.  The CDC recommends four doses of IPV for children at:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • Between 6 and 18 months
  • Between 4 and 6 years old

To see if your children and the rest of your family are up-to-date on their vaccines, look at the CDC’s immunization schedule and talk to your healthcare provider.

Rotavirus is a virus that causes diarrhea and vomiting in young children. It can lead to severe dehydration, which if not treated, can be deadly. Before the rotavirus recommendation in the United States in 2006, almost every child was infected with the virus by age 5, sending 200,000 children to the emergency room; causing 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations; and 20 to 60 deaths. Each year, rotavirus continues to cause an estimated 453,000 deaths among infants around the world each year.

Symptoms

After a child has been infected with rotavirus, it takes about two days for symptoms to appear. Symptoms may include:

  • Dehydration (loss of body fluids)
  • Vomiting
  • Severe watery diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

In adults who are otherwise healthy, a rotavirus infection may cause only mild signs and symptoms — or none at all.

Prevention
Babies and Children

For the best protection against rotavirus, children need to receive all recommended doses (2 or 3 doses depending on vaccine brand) of the rotavirus vaccine. Your child needs doses at:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months of age (if needed due to the brand of vaccine)

To see if your children are up-to-date on their vaccines, look at the CDC’s immunization schedule and talk to your healthcare provider.

Rubella, also called German measles, is a contagious viral infection best known by its distinctive red rash. The virus can spread to others through coughing and sneezing.

While the disease is usually mild in children and adults, rubella can be very dangerous for pregnant women and their babies. If a pregnant woman is infected with the disease it can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and/or birth defects such as heart problems, hearing and vision loss, intellectual disabilities, and liver or spleen damage. This group of health problems is called congenital rubella syndrome (CRS).

According to the CDC, before the rubella vaccine was introduced in 1969, widespread outbreaks usually occurred every 6 to 9 years in the U.S. Between 1962 and 1965, rubella infections during pregnancy were estimated to have caused 30,000 stillbirths and 20,000 children to be born impaired or disabled.

In 2004, the CDC announced that both the congenital and acquired forms of rubella had been eliminated in the U.S. However, the U.S. continues to vaccinate to prevent the possibility of rubella being brought in from countries where it is still common.

Symptoms

The symptoms of rubella are often so mild they’re difficult to notice, especially in children. If symptoms do occur, they generally appear two to three weeks after exposure to the virus and last two to three days.

Symptoms may include:

  • Mild fever of less than 101 degrees
  • Headache
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Inflamed, red eyes
  • Enlarged, tender lymph nodes
  • A fine, pink rash that begins on the face and quickly spreads to the trunk and then the arms and legs, before disappearing in the same sequence
  • Aching joints (especially in young women)
Prevention
Babies and Children

For the best protection against rubella, children need to receive the two recommended doses of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, and rubella). Your child needs doses at:

  • Between 12 and 15 months
  • Between 4 and 6 years of age

Children may also receive the MMRV vaccine, which includes protection against chickenpox (varicella). Talk to your child’s healthcare provider to see which vaccine – MMR or MMRV – is best for them.

Pregnant Women

Rubella is dangerous for a pregnant woman leading to miscarriage or having a baby born with birth defects. So, if you are thinking of becoming pregnant, please talk to your healthcare provider about getting vaccinated if you are not already immune. For more information, please visit the Pregnancy section.

To ensure that your entire family is up-to-date on their vaccines, check out the CDC’s recommended immunization schedules and talk to your healthcare provider.

Shingles (also known as herpes zoster) is a painful rash with blisters. The rash usually appears on one side of a person’s face or body.

Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. You can only get shingles if you had chickenpox. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus stays in your body and goes dormant in the roots of the nerves. In some people, the virus stays that way, but for many others, the virus “wakes up” many years later and causes shingles.

Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another. However, the varicella zoster virus can spread from a person infected with shingles to cause chickenpox in someone who never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. The virus is spread through direct contact with fluid from the rash blisters caused by shingles. A person is not infectious before the blisters appear or once the blisters have crusted over. The risk of someone with shingles spreading the virus to others is low if the rash is covered.

Shingles is not unique to older adults and can be seen at any age in anyone who had chickenpox; but, shingles is much more common in people 60 years of age and older. The risk of shingles increases as a person gets older. Shingles is also more common in people whose immune systems are weakened due to a disease such as cancer or HIV, or drugs such as steroids or chemotherapy.

According to the CDC, 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles, and there are about 1 million cases of the disease each year in the U.S.

Symptoms

Symptoms for shingles usually start as pain, itching or tingling in the area where the rash will develop. This may happen anywhere from 1 to 5 days before the rash appears.

Once the rash develops, it is most commonly a single stripe around either the left or the right side of the body. In other cases, the rash appears on one side of the face. The rash will contain blisters filled with fluid that usually scab over in 7 to 10 days. The rash often clears up within 2 to 4 weeks. In rare cases (usually among people with weakened immune systems), the rash may be more widespread and look similar to a chickenpox rash. Visit the CDC website to see photos of people infected with shingles.

Other possible symptoms of shingles include fever, headache, chills and upset stomach.

Complications from Shingles

The most common complication of shingles is post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). People with PHN have severe pain in the areas where they had the shingles rash after (at least 90 days) the rash clears up. The pain from PHN usually goes away in a few weeks or months; however, for some people, the pain from PHN can last for years and may interfere with their everyday life. As people get older, they are more likely to develop PHN, and the pain is more likely to be severe. PHN rarely occurs in people under 40 years of age.

In addition to PHN, shingles may lead to serious complications involving the eye. Very rarely, shingles can lead to pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, brain inflammation or death.

Prevention

The shingles vaccine is the best way to help prevent shingles and its complications. Even if you have had shingles before, you should still get vaccinated as it can help prevent getting shingles again in the future.

Adults

The shingles vaccine is called Shingrix (also known as recombinant zoster vaccine). Shingrix reduces the risk of shingles and PHN by more than 90% in people 50 and older.

The CDC recommends that healthy adults 50 years and older get vaccinated with 2 doses of the Shingrix vaccine to prevent shingles and related complications.

Additionally:

  • Shingrix is the preferred vaccine for preventing shingles and related complications. (Shingrix is recommended over Zostavax.)
  • You need both recommended doses of Shingrix. The second dose should be given 2-6 months after the first dose.
  • You should get Shingrix even if you were vaccinated with the previously recommended shingles vaccine (Zostavax) in the past. (You must wait at least 8 weeks after receiving Zostavax before you can get Shringrix)
  • The risk of hospitalization and death from chickenpox is increased in adults. Therefore, all adults who never received the chickenpox vaccine and never had the chickenpox should consider getting vaccinated. However, you do not need to be screened for a history of chickenpox before getting the shingles vaccine.
  • People who have a weakened immune system should talk to their healthcare provider to see if it is safe for them to get the shingles vaccine.
Treatment of Shingles

Several antiviral medicines are available to treat shingles, and can help shorten the duration of the rash and reduce pain. To be most effective, people with shingles should start taking antiviral medicines as soon as possible after the rash appears. People who think they might have shingles should call their healthcare provider as soon as possible to discuss treatment options.

Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for PHN.

Commonly known as lockjaw, tetanus is a severe disease that causes stiffness and spasms of the muscles. Up to 20% of reported tetanus cases end in death.

Unlike other vaccine-preventable diseases, which are transferred from person to person, tetanus bacteria are found in places such as soil/dirt, dust, and manure. Therefore, the disease will 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. Almost all cases of tetanus are in people who haven’t been vaccinated, or those who completed their childhood series but did not receive a booster dose in the last 10 years. Fatality is highest in people who haven’t been immunized.

Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of tetanus, in order of appearance, are:

  • Seizures (jerking or staring)
  • Fever and sweating
  • High blood pressure and fast heart rate
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Stiffness of muscles all over the body
  • Painful muscle spasms strong enough to break a child’s spine or bones
Prevention

Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent tetanus.

Babies and Children

For the best protection, children need to receive all five recommended doses of the DTaP vaccine. DTaP protects against three diseases -diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (also known as whooping cough). Your child needs doses at:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • Between 15 and 18 months
  • Between 4 and 6 years
Preteens and Teens

The Tdap vaccine is the booster shot that helps protect preteens and teens from the same three diseases that the DTaP vaccine protects young children from.

All preteens are recommended to receive one dose of Tdap when they are 11 or 12 years old. Teens who did not get the Tdap vaccine at that age should get it as soon as possible. Tdap is especially important for anyone who is in close contact with a baby younger than 12 months of age.

Adults

Vaccine protection for pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, and diphtheria fades with time.

Therefore, the CDC recommends a single dose of Tdap vaccine for all adults 19 years of age and older who have not previously received a Tdap vaccine.

The CDC also recommends adults receive a tetanus and diphtheria booster (called Td) every 10 years. The easiest thing for adults to do is to get Tdap one time instead of their next regular Td booster. You can get the dose of Tdap earlier than the 10-year mark, so talk to your healthcare provider during your next appointment.

Being up-to-date with one dose of Tdap is especially important for adults who are around babies.

Pregnant Women

Women should get a dose of Tdap during the 3rd trimester of every pregnancy to protect themselves and their newborns against whooping cough (pertussis). Infants are most at risk for severe, life-threatening complications from whooping cough.  Learn more in the Pregnancy section.

To ensure that your entire family is up-to-date on their vaccines, check out the CDC’s recommended immunization schedules and talk to your healthcare provider.

Whooping cough (also known as pertussis) is a highly contagious respiratory disease that spreads easily from person-to-person. In many children, whooping cough is marked by a severe hacking cough followed by a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like a “whoop.” However, some babies with whooping cough don’t cough at all. Instead the disease can cause them to have a hard time breathing, or even stop breathing for short periods of time.

People of all ages can get whooping cough, but the disease can be very dangerous for babies, as they are at particularly high risk of serious complications, hospitalization and death. In the first 6 months of life, babies are at high risk for complications from whooping cough, even if they are healthy.

Whooping cough spreads from person to person when coughing or sneezing or when spending a lot of time near one another where you share breathing space.  Since symptoms of whooping cough can vary, some people with whooping cough may just have a mild cough or what seems like a common cold, and they can end up spreading it to babies they are in close contact with. In fact, most unvaccinated children living with a family member with whooping cough will get the disease.

The younger the baby is when he or she gets whooping cough, the more likely it is that she will need treatment in the hospital. About half of infants younger than 1 year who get the disease need care in the hospital, and of those babies, about 1 out of 4 will get pneumonia, and 1 or 2 out of 100 will die.

Pertussis is still common in the United States, and outbreaks still occur putting children at great risk. According to the CDC, there are about 10,000 to 50,000 cases of whooping cough and up to 20 deaths each year in the U.S.

Symptoms

Symptoms usually take between 1 and 3 weeks to appear. They’re usually mild at first and resemble those of a common cold. After a week or two, signs and symptoms worsen. Thick mucus accumulates inside the airways causing uncontrollable, severe coughing. Violent coughing fits may cause:

  • Vomiting
  • A red or blue face (from not getting enough air)
  • Difficulty breathing, eating, drinking and/or sleeping
  • Broken ribs
  • Gasping for air after a coughing fit. This may cause a “whooping” sound.

Some babies with whooping cough only have a slight cough or no cough at all. Instead they may have a hard time breathing, or even stop breathing for short periods.

Adolescents and adults with whooping cough may have prolonged coughing spells that last for weeks or months. However, the “whoop” sound may not be there and the illness is generally less severe than in young children, especially in those individuals who were previously vaccinated against whooping cough. In fact, some adolescents and adults who get pertussis may not even know they have the disease.

Prevention

Vaccination is the best way to protect people of all ages, especially infants and young children, from whooping cough. The pertussis vaccine is combined with vaccines that protect against diphtheria and tetanus. For babies and young children, the vaccine is called DTaP. For preteens, teens, adults and pregnant women, the vaccine is called Tdap.

Babies and Children

For the best protection against whooping cough, your child needs all five recommended doses of the DTaP vaccine. Your child should receive doses at:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • Between 15 and 18 months
  • Between 4 and 6 years
Preteens and Teens

The Tdap vaccine is the “booster” shot that helps protect preteens and teens from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). All preteens are recommended to receive one dose of Tdap when they are 11-12 years old. Teens who did not get the Tdap vaccine at that age should get it as soon as possible.

Tdap is especially important for anyone who is in close contact with a baby younger than 12 months of age, since young children are at higher risk for serious whooping cough complications.

Adults

All adults (19 years of age and older) who have not yet received one dose of Tdap as a preteen, teen or adult, need to get a Tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). This vaccine will not only protect you from these diseases, but will also help protect those around you.  This is especially important, if you are planning to be around any babies, who are at risk of serious complications from whooping cough. So, if you don’t recall getting a Tdap vaccine, you should ask your healthcare provider. After that, adults need a Td vaccine (tetanus and diphtheria only) booster shot every ten years.

Pregnant Women

Women should get a dose of Tdap during the 3rd trimester of every pregnancy to protect themselves and their newborns from whooping cough. The recommended time to get the shot is during the 27th through 36th week of pregnancy, preferably during the earlier part of this time period.

Studies have shown that Tdap vaccination during pregnancy is safe and effective for pregnant women and their babies. This recommendation is supported by CDC, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and American College of Nurse Midwives.

The CDC states that Tdap vaccination during pregnancy is important so your baby can be born with protection against whooping cough.This early protection is important because your baby is at the greatest risk for catching whooping cough and having severe, potentially life-threatening complications from the infection during the first few months of life.

Learn more in the Pregnancy section.

Breastfeeding

According to the CDC, when you get a Tdap vaccine during your pregnancy, you will have antibodies in your breast milk that you can share with your baby through breastfeeding. However, your baby will not get protective antibodies immediately if you wait to get the Tdap vaccine until after delivering your baby. This is because it takes about 2 weeks after getting vaccinated for your body to create antibodies. Learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding.

To ensure that your entire family is up-to-date on their vaccines, check out the CDC’s recommended immunization schedules and talk to your healthcare provider.

Additional Resources