CHILDREN’S IMMUNIZATIONS: DIPHTHERIA, TETANUS, AND WHOOPING COUGH (PERTUSSIS)

In order to be protected against these three diseases, infants must receive three injections of the combined DTP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccine by the age of six months. The first injection is given at two months, followed by two more administered every other month. The child must receive a booster shot of CDT (combined diphtheria and tetanus toxoid) at age 18 to 24 months and another CDT shot at the age of four to six years. Thereafter, a booster of diphtheria-tetanus vaccine is necessary every ten years for life.

Diphtheria. Diphtheria is a bacterial disease that is frequently fatal. It causes infection of the nose, throat, tonsils, and lymph nodes of the neck. The bacterium responsible can produce a toxin (poison) that causes heart damage and paralysis. Cases of diphtheria are now rare in Western countries. For every case reported there are many other persons who are carriers of diphtheria. (A carried is a person who harbors the disease without getting sick him- or herself, and who can transmit it to other people.)

Before the diphtheria vaccine came into general use 40 years ago, many adults were immune to diphtheria because they had had some form of the illness in childhood. This situation no longer exists, so adults should receive booster shots of diphtheria vaccine every ten years. Serious ractions to the diphtheria vaccine, which is a dead vaccine, are rare.

Tetanus. Tetanus, or lockjaw, is a disease of the nervous system that can enter the body through a wound – even a minor wound like a scratch or an insect bite. Tetanus cases still occur throughout Australia. Although the vaccine is thoroughly safe and effective, its protection weakens over the years and booster shots are required. It is generally thought that after the age of four to six a child should receive a booster every ten years. However, some people are likely to have more frequent contact with tetanus germs and need to have a booster shot every five years. In general, clean wounds, such as those from kitchen utensils, require boosters every ten years; dirty wounds, such as those from rusty nails, barbed wire, and others that happen outdoors, require boosters every five years. For example, if your child has a wound from a rusty nail, check to see if he or she has received a booster within the last five years. Adults should receive boosters at least every ten years.

Whooping cough. Whooping cough is more common than many parents (and doctors) realize. It is a highly contagious infection of the respiratory tract, and it gets its name from the severe, strangling cough that develops as the disease progresses. Whooping cough vaccine is the most uncertain of the three components of the DTP vaccine, and it does not always give complete immunity. There have been extremely rare instances of brain damage following its use, but in some of these cases the damage was caused by faulty administration of the vaccine rather than by the vaccine itself. The vaccine may also cause a brief reaction of fever. For these reasons, routine boosters are not recommended after the child is eighteen months old. However, the mortality rate among infants under age one who contract whooping cough and the possibility of complications in older children are high enough to exceed by far the minimal risk of the vaccine.

In England, serious reactions to the vaccine were sufficiently frequent at one point to persuade the medical profession to suspend its use. However, because of the increasing incidence of whooping cough and its severe complications, immunization has now been reinstituted in England.

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Posted on Tuesday, April 28th, 2009 at 10:07 am and is filed under General health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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