About Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
These three diseases are all caused by bacteria. Diphtheria and pertussis are spread from person to person. Tetanus bacteria live in soil and dirt; the bacteria enter the body through cuts, scratches, or wounds. Tdap vaccine protects against all three. Adolescents who have already received a booster dose of Td are encouraged to get a single dose of Tdap as well, for protection against pertussis.
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a serious infection that causes coughing spells so severe that it can be hard to breathe. The disease can even lead to cracked ribs, pneumonia, or hospitalization. Protection from the pertussis vaccine that is given in early childhood wears off, so adolescents can get whooping cough. The illness is usually mild in them (they may never know they had it), but adolescents are common transmitters of the infection to infants, who are at the highest risk of death. In fact, a whooping cough outbreak that occurred in California in 2010 was responsible for the death of 10 infants and the largest number of cases in California in nearly 50 years.
Diphtheria is rare in the US, however, it still exists in other countries and can pose a serious threat to anyone not fully immunized who travels abroad or who has contact with infected individuals who come to the US. Diphtheria causes a thick covering in the back of the throat. It can lead to breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure, and even death.
Tetanus, sometimes called “lockjaw,” is an infection of the nervous system. It causes severe muscle spasms that can lead, among other things, to “locking” of the jaw so the patient cannot open his/her mouth or swallow.