Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis (DTaP)
Diphtheria was a major cause of childhood illness and death through the 1920s. Corynebacterioum diphtheriae lives in the mouth, throat and nose and spreads easily through coughing or sneezing. Fever and chills can progress to heart failure, paralysis and death, with a mortality rate of 10 percent.
Tetanus is common bacteria in soil that can enter the body through a cut in the skin, as well as from burns, ear infections, tooth infections, or animal bites. Symptoms of headache and crankiness can progress to severe muscle spasms strong enough to break bones and cause death in one-third of cases.
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a violent illness in older children characterized by spasms of uncontrollable coughing until the air is gone from the lungs and forces a person to inhale loudly or “whoop.” Severe cough can go on for weeks, breaking ribs or making a child turn blue from lack of air. Young infants often don’t whoop, but instead develop “apnea spells” where they simply stop breathing and turn blue, risking death from lack of air in their lungs. Infants and children can spend weeks in the intensive care unit from this frightening illness. Pertussis is relatively common in Oregon due to the large number of under-immunized children and adults.
The DTaP is a toxoid (inactivated toxin) vaccine, and therefore gives immunity to the toxin itself rather than to the bacteria. The “acellular” pertussis contains no bacterial cellular material and therefore causes fewer side effects than the old DTP shot given many years ago. Five doses of DTaP give maximum protection to children, given at ages 2, 4, 6, 15 months and age 4. A dose of DTaP is now recommended in adults as well. Side effects of the vaccine include local tenderness, pain, redness, swelling or low-grade fever (around 101˚). Very rare serious side effects of seizures or pale spells have occurred in 1 out of 14,000 cases. No known deaths have been caused by DTaP vaccines.