What Are Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis?
Diphtheria is an infection caused by bacteria that releases toxins in the body. It can be life-threatening. The infection and toxins causes a thick coating in your nose and throat. This coating can make it hard to breath. Diphtheria can be easily spread between people.
Tetanus (also known as lockjaw) is caused by bacteria that enter through broken skin. The bacteria release a toxin in the body. It affects the nerves leading to severe muscle spasms. If it affects the muscles you need to breathe, it can be fatal.
Pertussis is also known as whooping cough. It is caused by bacteria that easily spread from person to person. It cause swelling in the airways. This causes a distinct, severe cough and breathing problems.
What Is DTaP?
DTaP is a vaccine to protect against these three infections.
The vaccine has inactive forms of these bacteria. Inactive forms can not cause an infection. Instead, they stimulate the body to make antitoxins and antibodies to fight future infections.
Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?
DTaP is given to young children. It is delivered over a series of five shots. The vaccine is given at ages:
- 2 months
- 4 months
- 6 months
- 15-18 months
- 4-6 years
Other, similar vaccines that are approved for older children and adults include:
- Tdap—Tdap is for children aged 11-12 years old. It may also be given to teens or adults who did not previously receive it. This vaccine protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis.
- Td—This is generally used as a booster shot. It may be given every 10 years. It protects against tetanus and diphtheria.
What Are the Risks Associated With DTap?
Common side effects of the vaccine include:
- Soreness or redness at the site of the injection
- Lack of appetite
Less common, but more serious side effects include:
- Severe allergic reaction
- High fever
- Crying for over three hours
Acetaminophen (eg, Tylenol) is sometimes given for any pain and fever after a vaccination. In infants, the medicine may weaken the vaccine's effectiveness. Talk with the doctor about whether you should give acetaminophen to your child.
Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?
Children should not receive the DTap vaccine if they experienced:
- A severe or life-threatening allergic reaction after a dose of DTap (eg, very high fever, non-stop crying, seizure)
- A severe allergic reaction to any of the components that make up the vaccine
If your child is sick at the time of the vaccination, the doctor may recommend waiting.
What Other Ways Can These Diseases Be Prevented?
Vaccination is the best way to prevent these infections. Other strategies include:
- Avoiding contact with people who have a contagious infection
- Properly cleaning wounds and seeing a doctor right away if medical care is needed
What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?
Suspected cases of these infections need to be reported to the public health department. If you believe you have been exposed, make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date. Your doctor may recommend preventative antibiotics after close contact with someone who is infected.
- J. Thomas Megerian, MD, PhD, FAAP
- Reviewed: 07/2012
- Updated: 07/16/2012
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