Tetanus and Pertussis

A doctor friend of mine is still recovering from a cases of Whooping Cough.

She coughed for so long and so violently that she broke ribs.  It has taken weeks for her recovery.

I had for a while though of Whooping Cough as one of those maladies one might read of in a Jane Austen novel, but… no… it seems that it is still around.

What astonished me was the explanation from the afflicted doctor how severely infectious Whooping Cough is.  Moreover, people are contagious with it before the symptoms manifest.  Nasty.

Since I travel a lot this raised my alarm bells.

These days people often get boosters for Whooping Cough, Pertussis, together with their Tetanus booster.

I am heading out this morning for mine.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. DavidJ says:

    I’ve broken a rib from coughing before, and not even from Pertussis. It’s quite possible.

    And yes, everyone should ask about a booster for it. It’s still out there and still quite communicable. A good friend of mine came down with it the other year, and she was out of commission for a while.

  2. Banjo pickin girl says:

    My friend broke a rib. I got my booster. Tetanus is also very possible for people who work or play out of doors. Especially get a booster before going on a mission trip.

    The common cold is another where you spill virus during the incubation period before you are symptomatic. Once you are symptomatic it means your immune system is involved and you don’t spill as much virus. “As much.”

  3. Banjo pickin girl says:

    It’s also possible to rupture spinal discs with coughing, a horror of mine.

  4. acardnal says:

    Get a flu shot while you’re at it, Father Z.

  5. AnAmericanMother says:

    Been there, done that!
    I coughed for six weeks (that’s average). We thought at first I had bronchitis but no, it was whooping cough. Didn’t break anything but I sure was miserable.
    My doctor tells me there is a real epidemic of adult whooping cough. Here’s why: most adults and adolescents in the past got the DTP booster — the tetanus protection lasts for 10 years, but the pertussis protection is only good for 3-4. Everybody’s thinking “10 years” (and you really shouldn’t get the tetanus vaccine too often, it’s a fairly powerful one) and gets caught in the last six.
    That’s what happened to me. I always have kept my tetanus strictly up to date because of the dogs and the horses and splashing around in muddy farm ponds and creeks with both.
    They have a new vaccine with a reduced tetanus component that you can take every 5 years with no ill effects. dTap, I think. that’s what I’ll get from here on out.

  6. William says:

    Distribution of Holy Communion by ordained hands only and drastically reduced opportunity for receiving Holy Communion under both Species. Hand sanitizer is not a sacramental! And keep your immunization shots current.

  7. Alice says:

    I guess I need to get myself to the doctor, then. Mine was 3 years ago and I have a little one who is too young for the immunization yet.

  8. AnAmericanMother says:

    Check with your doctor, but it’s very important for those with close contact with children too young for the vaccine to keep it up to date — for your sake AND theirs.

  9. irishgirl says:

    When I was younger, I used to get nasty colds, with coughing fits that made me believe I was going to have a cracked rib….but that never happened, thank God. I thought my lungs were going to explode, though….
    My last bout of bronchitis was in 1999. I was out from work for almost two weeks.
    I think my one and only tetanus shot was when I landed in the ER with a busted elbow, which I got when I fell off some steps and landed on a concrete garage floor.
    And I hate shots….never got over my fear of needles….

  10. wmeyer says:

    For those considering the flu vaccine, consider this: “The group most vulnerable to non-pandemic flu, the elderly, is also the least benefitted by the vaccine, with an average efficacy rate ranging from 40-50% at age 65, and only 15-30% past age 70.” (New England Journal of Medicine)

    Some consider that the vaccine is still worth getting, even above age 60, as the risks to this (my) age group are so high.

  11. lucy says:

    Whooping cough has made quite a comeback in recent years. All five of my kids have been vaccinated against it.

  12. jjfxg says:

    I believe they make a high-dose flu shot specifically for the >65 age group to increase the efficacy rate.

  13. Random Friar says:

    Prudence is the daughter of Wisdom!

  14. david andrew says:

    I was never formally diagnosed, but I’m convinced I had a truly severe case of Pertussis back in 2006. The coughing was so violent that I separated ribs (that I know, from the pain) and sometime my throat would close.

    The really terrible part of it is that once you’ve had it, the effects (especially the throat and bronchial spasms) seem to linger and recur any time you have a cough or cold. While living in Minnesota I had several bad recurrences of URI’s that put me in the ER, the last time was in late November, and it lasted through Christmas. (Spending the day of Christmas Eve in the ER is no treat, let me tell you!)

  15. Supertradmum says:


    I hope you follow these guidelines. How old is your little one? We all had petussis early as indicated below, and I did the same with my son. ” In the United States, the recommended pertussis vaccine for infants and children is called DTaP. This is a combination vaccine that protects against three diseases: diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. For maximum protection against pertussis, children need five DTaP shots. The first three shots are given at 2, 4, and 6 months of age. The fourth shot is given between 15 and 18 months of age, and a fifth shot is given before a child enters school, at 4–6 years of age. Parents can also help protect infants by keeping them away as much as possible from anyone who has cold symptoms or is coughing.

    Vaccine protection for pertussis, tetanus and diphtheria fades with time. Before 2005, the only booster available contained protection against tetanus and diphtheria (called Td), and was recommended for teens and adults every 10 years. Today there are boosters for pre-teens, teens and adults that contain protection against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap). Pre-teens going to the doctor for their regular check-up at age 11 or 12 years should get a dose of Tdap. Teens who did not get this vaccine at the 11- or 12-year-old check-up should get vaccinated at their next visit. Adults who did not get Tdap as a pre-teen or teen should get one dose of Tdap. Pregnant women who have not been previously vaccinated with Tdap should get one dose of Tdap preferably during the third trimester or late second trimester (after 20 weeks). Pregnant women not vaccinated during pregnancy should receive one dose of Tdap immediately postpartum before leaving the hospital or birthing center. Adults 65 years and older (grandparents, child care providers, and healthcare providers) who have close contact with infants should get a dose of Tdap. Getting vaccinated with Tdap – at least two weeks before coming into close contact with an infant – is especially important for families with and caregivers of new infants.

    Please do not delay. My mother remembers pandemics of whopping cough as a child and many, many babies and toddlers died.

  16. priests wife says:

    One thing to remember- an adult suffering from pertussis while not have the ‘whooping’ sound while they cough like a child does.

    My husband is a hospital chaplain- we don’t do flu shots- but basically everything else

    really all one can do is wash hands, take a multi and get some sleep!

  17. Supertradmum says:


    When I was teaching, I got a flu shot every year for about 20 years. Now, as I am in one of the groups above, I do not get it. Since I stopped getting the flu shot, two years ago, as I had cancer in 2009 and couldn’t take it then, I have not had the flu. A good shot for us older ones, however, is the pneumonia vaccine, which I recommend. I think the flu shot is expendable and for those of us without insurance, costly. Without insurance and on a very small pension, I do not get any shots, but I would if I could.

  18. APX says:

    Whooping cough is bad, and it often fatal for infants who often contract it from an adult with the virus who’s holding them. That’s why it’s highly recommended that anyone with infants, or regular contact with infants get the shot for it.

  19. wmeyer says:


    I appreciate your comments. I have always been skeptical of the vaccine, given the small number of strains for which any given issue is effective. I’ve never had a flu shot, and being 63 in three weeks, I am not likely to change now.

  20. Supertradmum says:

    Happy Birthday. I shall reach your milestone in January. God bless.

  21. wmeyer says:

    Thanks! I’m still breathing, got my steel hips a few years ago, and if I could just get a sinusectomy….


    God bless.

  22. Lynn Diane says:

    Unfortunately flu tends to hit the elderly and the very young the hardest. It is a well-known and prolific killer in these age groups. Granted that flu shots are only about 70% effective but they can lessen symptoms in cases where they don’t fully prevent disease. Older children are less severely affected and so make excellent carriers of virus to the rest of the population. Senior citizens are especially encouraged to get their flu shots before the virus-laden grandchildren come visiting.

  23. Janet Selby says:

    For those seeking vaccines, especially for children, they would be well served to check out the Children of God for Life web site (http://www.cogforlife.org/) to see if the vaccines have been made with aborted fetal material. This might be a good point for discussion as to where our moral obligation lies in these situations.

  24. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    My dad had a case of whooping cough a few years ago, thankfully no broken ribs (that we know of, he isn’t the most wiling of medical patients). Its contagious nature was learned by me when the whole family had to go out and get a couple of pills to take just because we had been exposed to it so closely (it was summer, so my brothers and I were all home from college, and it was a couple of weeks before it was diagnosed).

    It really took a toll on his health and physical shape for months after he was “better”, and is nothing I ever want to have to mess around with

  25. mrsmontoya says:

    I had whooping cough 14 months ago – it was indeed as your friend described. One curious after-affect: my voice dropped significantly. I am now a very low alto.

    Get the booster shot!

  26. rsalie says:

    We have had several infants die of pertussis over the last year where I live. My daughter was born when there were multiple cases popping up all over the area in infants so they vaccinated me and my husband before we left the hospital and the pediatrician vaccinated my oldest later that week just in case. Our pediatrician said they had seen a huge increase in cases starting a couple of years ago, most of the younger children being infected by an adult or older sibling.

  27. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Janet, the tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis vaccine (or any of its combinations) is not made from either the Winstar or MRC cell lines in question. Relatively few vaccines are. These cell lines are made for making live attenuated vaccines but are not useful for some viruses.

  28. Banjo pickin girl says:

    I neglected to mention that what we have been discussing here are vaccines against bacterial diseases.

  29. SegoLily says:

    Bordatella pertussis, that’s it’s scientific name Folks. Sounds a little like Carbonara in the above post, eh Father? It’s a very peculiar bacterial disease that has three phases, the prodrome, the whoop, and the recovery phase, which I think all in all, takes >100 days to complete. Unlike most bacterial diseases, the blood analyses shows a lymphocytosis (increased lymphocytes) which is usually seen only in viral diseases.

    Pertussis is generally not lethal in adults, but is very lethal in babies. They cough so hard that they burst the capillaries in their brains and eyes and have intracranial hemmorhage. They also become anoxic (lack of oxygen) from the thick mucus the disease produces and which they cannot clear from their airways and may suffer brain damage if they don’t die.

    Short of getting the vaccine, if you do contract it, erythromycin will very much ameliorate the severity of the disease.

  30. antmcos says:

    “Short of getting the vaccine, if you do contract it, erythromycin will very much ameliorate the severity of the disease.”

    As a pediatrician, I have to tell you, that is not entirely correct. Erythromycin, Biaxin, or Zithromax will only ameliorate the severity of the disease when it is given in the initial stage, when you think you just have a cold and are unlikely to go to the doctor or to to get one to prescribe an antibiotic to you. This stage lasts about 2 weeks. Then the cough increases in severity, the whoop stage.When antibiotics are given in the “whoop stage,” they do not decrease or ameliorate the severity of the disease, but they will decrease your infectivity to others, i.e. how contagious you are. That is why they are prescribed, to prevent the disease in others. If you are in this stage, and your family members are in the earlier stage, they will be given antibiotics too, and will probably not progress to the whoop.

    They think I had pertussis when I first started practicing. My lungs have never been the same.

  31. AnAmericanMother says:


    I think I must have had some lingering partial immunity from my last DTP booster, because I haven’t had any lasting effects from my late lamented enc0unter with the whooping cough. Or it may be that my lungs were strengthened by years of playing the bagpipes and choral singing — our music director insists that the deep breathing required for good singing (or playing the pipes!) is very beneficial. But he’s not an M.D., and neither am I.

    My husband had weak lungs from childhood asthma and allergies that returned in his 20s. But the Advair inhaler has completely changed his life.

  32. Elizabeth M says:

    Random Friar, I wish those words of wisdom would fall on all the TLM moms that I know. For some reason they state “moral reasons” for not having their children vaccinated. I would think that there are many higher “moral reasons” for taking precautions. For example, isn’t our body a Temple of the Holy Spirit? My son did have a fever and was miserable after his influenza shot for 24 hours but I know it was better for him to have it.

  33. AnAmericanMother says:

    Elizabeth M,
    And what would those reasons be?
    Usually the anti-vaccine folks are either conspiracy theorists, or anti-big-Pharma folks who believe the entirely unproven rumors that vaccination causes autism or brain damage or even AIDS, and that the doctors are pushing vaccines to keep us sick so they have plenty of business. Lord knows I’ve argued with enough of them.
    Some of us are old enough to have had friends crippled by polio, or with little brothers and sisters blind or deaf or retarded from measles, or have traveled in countries like Haiti and Mexico where vaccination is rare and disease is rife (there was a case of smallpox in Mexico not long before we visited there in the early 60s, and when we went to Haiti we all had to be re-vaccinated for smallpox and polio, also cholera, yellow fever, typhoid, and a couple of others. Not to mention malaria prophylaxis, which makes your ears ring. And my arm ached for weeks!)
    If enough people buy into the “vaccines are bad for you” argument, we’re going to lose our herd immunity and be back in the days of chalking “Lord have mercy upon us” on the door.

  34. KAS says:

    This is interesting. I’ll be sure to ask about boosters for all family members right after the baby is born!

    Luckily, the Little Tiger is up to date on all age appropriate shots. Need to double check hubby.

  35. Joe in Canada says:

    I got whooping cough many years ago when I was working in my first parish. The long story is that the cook’s occasional assistant in the kitchen (a community of 12) was the daughter of a gynecologist in our parish (the famous and praiseworthy Dr Robert Walley http://www.matercare.org/ ) among the families of whose clientele was running a small outbreak. The short story I told people was I got it from our parish gynecologist. I whooped, and did not say Mass publicly for 3 weeks.

  36. Trevor says:

    Everybody should get the Pertussis vaccine. Aside from preventing your own illness, you also won’t be furthering the spread of the disease. Adults can survive whooping cough; it can kill an infant (and they can’t receive the vaccine right away).

  37. Rachel Pineda says:

    Whooping cough is very contagious and serious. When 1st born was 5 weeks old she got whooping cough and had to be on a respirator for four and a half of those weeks. She recovered but with scarred lungs and had to be on an apnea monitor for a long time afterwards. My one year old just got over whooping cough and my 2 y.o. just got over pneumonia. I wonder if it was whooping cough undiagnosed, they were sick at the same time. It’s a very scary and heartbreaking thing to see someone suffering from this disease. Hope the season for this bug doesn’t last long.

  38. Elizabeth M says:

    An American Mother, I completely agree with you. I have yet to hear a logical, reasonable explaination. It is frustrating trying to show them the real case studies. Maybe I’ve befriended some conspiracy theorists and didn’t even know it! Ha!

  39. AnAmericanMother says:

    I think there’s a sort of “siege mentality” among some of the TLM regulars, and it probably carries over into other areas of life. [??!? This is about Pertussis and Tetanus. Don’t be a “pain in the neck”, if you’ll pardon the pun, be dragging this into a TLM rabbit hole.]
    If you’re used to being suspicious of the motives of various people in ecclesiastical authority that you believe are trying to quash or belittle your parish, it’s easy to be suspicious of the motives of other people in authority.
    Not saying that suspicion isn’t justified in some or even many instances wrt some clergy, just that if the mindset is there it makes it a little more likely that they will be suspicious in other matters as well.

Comments are closed.