Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is an extremely contagious respiratory disease. While it can cause serious respiratory illness in people of all ages, there is an increased risk of infection and complications for adults with asthma. That is why this Asthma Awareness Month we are highlighting pertussis and how to help prevent it.

What Is Pertussis?

Pertussis is an infectious respiratory disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Symptoms generally start seven to 10 days after being exposed. Within a week or two, people with whooping cough may develop a hard, repetitive cough that is sometimes accompanied by a ‘whooping’ sound as individuals gasp for air after coughing. In China, it is known as the 100-day cough as these intense coughing fits can go on for 10 weeks or more. Vaccination is the best way to help protect against pertussis. Learn more at Lung.org/pertussis.

Adults with Asthma

“My biggest asthma symptom is coughing,” shares Shelly C., an adult living with asthma in Pennsylvania. “And my coughing has shown to quickly increase in intensity when I’m exposed to triggers or infections.”

There are approximately 20 million adults living with asthma in the United States. Asthma is a chronic lung disease that makes it harder to move air in and out of your lungs. Swollen airways become extra sensitive and when exposed to triggers, may swell even further and excrete mucus that makes breathing increasingly difficult. Asthma is treatable, and when well controlled should not prevent you from participating in activities.

If you become sick with pertussis it can lead to severe, sometimes life-threatening health problems—such as exacerbation of your asthma. Milder cases of whooping cough can mimic a common cold. As the disease becomes more severe in some individuals, coughing spells may result in a loss of bladder control, retching, vomiting and may even lead to rib fractures. Ensuring your asthma is well managed, and that you are protected against pertussis, can help keep your lungs healthy.

"Vaccines have always been an important part of my asthma management,” Shelly shares, “Knowing that vaccinations will help reduce the severity, duration, and risk of complications if I do get an infection makes it a no-brainer to stay up to date.”

Vaccination for Pertussis

It is recommended that people of all ages in the United States be vaccinated against pertussis, and especially important for high-risk adults to be protected. Vaccines are a safe and effective way to prevent infectious diseases. Since 2005, Tdap has been available for adults and protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

Vaccination rates are well below target for adults, with only 31% (less than a third) of adults having received a pertussis vaccine in the past 10 years. Breaking this down even further, the 2018 National Health Interview Survey found disparities by race in who is vaccinated and protected from pertussis. This inequity perpetuates potentially poor health outcomes for those not vaccinated. The percentages of adults by race vaccinated during the preceding 10 years are:

  • Black – 20%
  • Hispanic – 21%
  • Asian – 26%
  • White – 37%

“Low vaccination rates leave far too many people vulnerable to pertussis,” states Dr. Albert Rizzo, Chief Medical Officer for the American Lung Association. “Keeping up to date with vaccinations, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is important for everyone and especially those living with chronic lung diseases.”

If you are living with asthma, visit Lung.org/pertussis to learn more and speak with your healthcare provider about getting a vaccination to protect against pertussis.

Support for the development of this American Lung Association educational blog provided by Sanofi.

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