Pertussis immunity

My husband just learned that he may have been exposed to whooping cough this past weekend. Obviously, we’ll be watching to see if he has any symptoms, but I’m wondering about immunity levels for the rest of the family.

I had whooping cough 23 years ago, when I was in junior high (I had had the vaccines, but I’m told that they wear off around adolescence). I’m presuming that that means that I still have immunity, but I don’t really know. Am I right?

My daughter is 18 months old, and has had the first four of the five DTaP shots (she’s not supposed to get the fifth until she’s 4). Does she have full or partial immunity at this point?

I was very sick when I had whooping cough, and it didn’t help that it took six weeks to diagnose it. I really don’t want anyone in my family to get it.

There have been a number of reports of pertussis in adults recently. It is usually a milder disease than in infants, but follows the same disease progression – catarrhal phase (runny nose, pink eyes, low grade fever and malaise, mild cough) progresses to the paroxysmal phase of the “whooping” cough, which can last from 1 to 10 weeks. This gradually tapers off into a convalescent phase. If you have had vaccine, the paroxysms may be far less severe and therefore the diagnosis is not that easy to make.

Your daughter should be adequately protected. This is the reason we vaccinate – the only case of pertussis I have seen was in a 3 week old who had not yet reached the first dose, given at 1 month. It is a scary, scary disease. As for your immunity, it depends. I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying that this is a disease you can only get once, as it depends on your antibody titers and a bunch of other things. Immunity generally wanes. Also, if you or anyone in your household is asthmatic or a smoker, this puts them more at risk for the disease taking hold.

Just be on the look out for symptoms, starting from the catarrhal phase, and get tested and treated with low suspicions.