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La Jolla Mom - When a Vaccinated Child Is Exposed to Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

When a Vaccinated Child Is Exposed to Whooping Cough

whooping cough epidemic california

I heard third hand that my daughter was exposed to whooping cough (pertussis). She was at a play group with a vaccinated child who was diagnosed with the highly contagious infection a few days later. I was totally unprepared for what was to come, because my daughter is also vaccinated against pertussis. Here are 6 things to consider if this happens to you.

1. Whooping Cough Symptoms Might Seem Like a Cold

The child had a very mild cough that the mother dismissed as a common cold. A well exam and test later revealed that it was indeed whooping cough. If this mother missed it, then it’s likely that I could. I called the doctor to ask what symptoms I should be looking for.

If a child is vaccinated and contracts whooping cough, they may not cough with the “whoop” that is characteristic of the virus.

It might be a very mild cough with no fever, similar to what you might have with a common cold.

2. Whooping Couth Exposure = Immediate Doctor Visit

Because of the close contact my daughter had with this child, the doctor requested that I bring her in immediately for testing. This sounded harmless to me so I agreed. We had plans for Labor Day weekend and if for some reason she tested positive, then it was obviously better to stay home.

However, I should have paid more attention to the urgency in the nurse’s voice when I scheduled the visit. She demanded that prior to arrival at their office that my daughter not come into contact with anyone whatsoever. The poor girl even stood awkwardly in the middle of the sick waiting room under instruction not to touch a single chair or toy.

3. The Whooping Cough Test

The doctor took a long, skinny Q-Tip and shoved it up (it looked like it was pretty far up there) both nostrils to gather samples. Tears and panic erupted. I admit, it looked pretty uncomfortable.

After that, my daughter coughed (possibly from having the test) and with lightning speed, we were prescribed antibiotics and put in quarantine. We were told that even if she hadn’t of coughed, the result would have been the same because San Diego County is having a difficult time controlling the outbreak. I can’t find this in writing anywhere, but I was told that the County is mandating exposed children to be treated immediately as if they have whooping cough.

4. Whooping Cough Quarantine and Medication

We were prescribed a “Z Pak” of Azithromycin which is a generic for Zithromax. The medicine is a pink liquid, so I assumed that I could hide it in some strawberry ice cream or similar and get it down.  My daughter is terrible at taking medication.  The taste is so bitter and strong that there is no way it could be hidden in food.  In fact, despite me warning my daughter it was going to taste horribly, she threw up the entire first dose. She managed to get the rest down OK, with bribery.

The dosing was one teaspoon on the first day and 1/2 teaspoon for 4 days after that. This means that we were in quarantine for 5 long days. I was expecting to get the test results on the 4th or 5th day. The results came in on the 6th day. Nothing would have changed for my daughter if her test was positive, because the Z Pak would have been finished.

However, a positive result would have meant that our entire family would begin immediate treatment for whooping cough. I am not sure if we all then would have been quarantined for another 5 days. Her test result was negative, so luckily we didn’t have to find out.

5. Why Whooping Cough Is on the Rise

Our pediatrician said that it’s a combination of 3 things. First, the vaccine itself is not 100% effective.  I’ve read online that different studies show it’s anywhere from 80-95% effective. Secondly, it’s because some parents did not vaccinate by choice, likely due to a speculated link between vaccines and autism. Lastly, as I’ve already mentioned, it can be difficult to identify whooping cough in a vaccinated child.

6. How to Get the Whooping Cough Vaccine

Whooping cough cases are on the rise in San Diego and many other parts of the country. If you do not have insurance and would like the pertussis vaccine, you may go to one of these County of San Diego Clinics to receive vaccines.  People with insurance are encouraged to see their primary care physicians.

I admit that I took a few hours to think about what I was going to do, prior to picking up the Z Pak at the pharmacy. I was not at all convinced she had whooping cough and am not a fan of administering antibiotics unless necessary. My initial thought was to quarantine our family until the test results came back and if they were positive, to then proceed with the antibiotics and stay in quarantine (which by then be almost 2 weeks and overlap her first week of school).

After speaking with my husband, we decided that if it is a County requirement, we should proceed as directed. We are also in the middle of remodeling my house so quarantining the three of us is next to impossible, since we can’t live in our own home.

If this happens to you, what would you do?

(Obviously, I’m not a doctor so please consult yours before taking action!)

  • angela - October 15, 2012

    I am in the exact same situation and have a call in to my daughter’s Dr. We just found out she was exposed to pertussis about 10 days ago. 3 days ago, she developed mild cold symptoms (runny nose, dry cough) but no fever. I’d like to have a test done to confirm whether she has is BEFORE administering antibiotics. But, I am 22 weeks pregnant and scared that I will get it. But, if she has it, I’ve already been exposed to it and will probably get it- right? Do you know of anything I can do to prevent that from happening? I am not up to date on my vaccination (never got around to it) but my daughter is fully immunized. I have heard the vaccine is not 100% effective but I am hoping that she just has a cold and not pertussis. :-( Any advice?

  • Lisa - October 3, 2012

    The authorities will admit that the current vaccine is not effective as the strain used to manufacture the vaccine no longer exists. As apparently they mutate or change. So they encourage you to take the vaccine with its risks involved as its ” better than nothing” i personally dont like risk without benefit. Dr Andrew Wakefield has been given an apology by all the powers that publicly discredited his, and other scientists work on the autism findings. Please look for this before naming him a fraud. Antibiotics should not be given until a diagnosis, clostridium difficile is a dangerous complication of antibiotics which can lead to septic shock and death. If the diagnosis is incorrect, you may need a different type of antibiotic and increase the risks.
    So many of these ” bacterial diseases” are actually fungal. Bacteria are microscopic fungi. Do some research on this. The erythromycin and azithromycin are antifungal antibiotics.
    I wish you well.:)

    • Nessa - September 1, 2014

      Just couldn’t let this misconception stand. Bacteria are definitely not “microscopic fungi” as the two are completely separate types of organisms. See (yes it says pets, but it’s an easy to read article about viruses, bacteria and fungi in general) Azithromycin and erythromycin are intended for treating bacteria, not fungi.

  • nathalie - April 12, 2012

    Pertussis will always be with us. It isn’t “on the rise” bc some are unvaccinated. It will NEVER go away….it’s not a disease that can be eradicated. It cycles every few years, which is why some years we hear nothing of it, and 3 years later so many people seem to get it.

    The vaccine does not prevent bacterial transmission or create antibodies to kill the bacteria. It’s an anti-toxin. It treats the TOXINS the bacteria create. That’s why it won’t be eradicated, because it doesn’t directly affect the bacteria.

    It does the same things diphtheria and tetanus vaccines do – work against the toxins.

    Just an FYI, because your #5 is wrong.

  • jan - March 19, 2012

    Don’t forget that babies are dying from this! It’s one thing if you don’t want to take antiobiotics yourself or give them to your children -but consider that by not being treated and tested you could spread pertussis to others and could possibly cause the death of someone’s dear baby.

  • Helen Katon - May 31, 2011

    To say the autism link is speculated is a huge understatement. The scientist who proposed it has been discredited as a complete fraud.

  • Annemarie - March 11, 2011

    if you have an uncontrollable itchy scratch cough… it can be treated without antibiotics!!! try Elderberry syrup or tablets… sold in healthfood stores… also = Sambucol
    I had the cough for over a months and tried elderberry… my throat was so grateful!!! my husband had the cough and he went to the doctor and got antibiotics and had the cough another 6 weeks : ) but if elderberry nt working must not be the simple itch cough and go to dr : (
    my daughter here in St Louis is supposed to take the zpack… she has a high school classmate with whooping cough now… my daughter has no symptoms and nurse just called us on the phone and sent in perscription over phone to walgreens for z-pack.. I am still pondering if I should have her take it????? no test done on my daughter…simply take the zpack since she was exposed… seems so dictatorlike!

  • Delfin - February 1, 2011

    There are several vaccinations administered to babies which would place them at risk of contracting particular types of diseases.

    Thanks for the tips & making aware of its side-effects.

  • angelina - September 18, 2010

    hi, i am researching because the kids grandfather has been around my two boys , 5 and 2, and was sick, and now has been confirmed with whooping cough. he had it twice last year..
    now my 5yearold has cold like symptoms with a cough and i’m freaking out! wondering what to do…take him to dr for a test?!?
    both my kids have been vaccinated for pertissus.

    • mamaspeak - September 19, 2010

      You should take him to the doctor & tell them he was exposed. It’s HIGHLY contagious & they’ll put him on antibiotics so he won’t be likely to spread it. They may also give him something for the cough. My experience is that the meds they give don’t touch the cough (dr warned me this was likely), but the cough is so awful, it’s worth it to try. It’s awful, but if your kids are basically healthy, they will most likely be fine. It’s infants & the senior who really need to worry. Their bodies have trouble handling the amount & severity of the coughing. I totally see how that can be after having it this summer. But go to the dr right away. Don’t spread it.

    • La Jolla Mom - September 19, 2010

      I would definitely call your doctor! Good luck and let us know how it goes.

  • cough symptoms - September 17, 2010

    You rightly said even the vaccinations are not full-proof nowadays.They are not 100% effective.There is a chance of getting the disease even if you have vaccination against it.Now this is a major problem we face these days.

  • Deborah Johnston - September 16, 2010

    Thank you for writing this.
    I just took my VACCINATED 6 year old to the doctor today and was told they think he has whooping cough. They did no test, just checked him over, then gave us a prescription for Erythromycin with strict instructions that he MUST go in for a follow-up in 2-3 days.
    How do I know if we should be quarantined? How do I know for how long? Who do I inform of the possibility that he has it, when there is the possibility he does not? I sometimes feel the doctors make snap judgements, whether they are actually right or not.

    • La Jolla Mom - September 16, 2010

      I am SHOCKED that they didn’t do a test! I wonder if it’s because they’d report it if he tested positive and it’s too much paperwork? If he did have it, I believe you are supposed to somehow inform people he might have come in to contact with. I’m really sorry that you’re left in such a lurch.

      • Leisa - December 13, 2014

        The tests are ridiculously expensive. Some insurances won’t cover it and a friend of mine who was exposed to my daughter before she tested positive (by-the-way, she was completely up to date on her vaccines) was charged $600-800 for the test and her insurance didn’t cover it.

  • mamaspeak - September 16, 2010

    Ha! This did happen to us. Only by the time we were diagnosed (Little, 4 & I both got it) we were both way past infecting anyone. Little has had the cough since June. I’ve had it since July. Yes, we’ve had it all summer. At one point I was sure I’d given myself a hernia from coughing. No one around me doubted that was possible. It was awful. To be safe, the doctor gave us each the Z-pak, which did “take the edge off” our coughs, but there’s really nothing they can do to give you any relief. Our doctor said he caught it last year & was very empathetic, but also informed me of it’s nickname; “the 100 day cough”

  • Christina - September 14, 2010

    Wow!! While I understand the need to try and control it I can’t believe they are giving out antibiotics before test results come back. Did they tell you to also give her live active cultures at the same time? Like Mary, I can’t stand that the symptoms are all the same and kids are on antibiotics constantly. But, of course, I will do what I need to do to keep my kids healthy.
    Our pediatrician told me to bring my 9mo old baby in IMMEDIATELY if he had any symptoms of a cold. He’s not old enough for the Measles vaccine and that has come up in our area (as well as the Pertussis concern).

  • Mama Mary - September 13, 2010

    Dude! Scary stuff. My girls were exposed to Whooping cough a few months ago and I thought for sure Lexi had it, but she didn’t it was just a regular cold. Ugh! Drives me nuts that the symptoms are the same for everything!

  • Jodie at Mummy Mayhem - September 13, 2010

    I’m here in Sydney, Australia, and my sons’ school, as well as many others around Sydney, have experienced quite the outbreak of whooping cough over the last month or so. I don’t know any kids not vaccinated, so it actually amazes me – even given that the vacc isn’t 100% foolproof – that so many have contracted it.

    Kids have been kept at home until the tests come back. Once the antibiotics are administered, they’re back not long after.

    Hope everything is well in your house again soon!

  • Ginger - September 13, 2010

    Wow – I had NO idea this was the protocol for a cough, even if your child has been vaccinated. Thanks for the heads up! I would have done the same thing as you, but taking that quarantine time off work would have definitely been a struggle.

    I really hope this dies down soon.

  • Andrea - September 13, 2010

    That is a hard call…sorry you had to make it. I am not a fan of administering antibiotics either. The thought of waiting and the condition worsening would probably prompt me to start them as directed. Thanks for enlightening us on this serious topic. Glad to hear your family is healthy!

  • Theresa - September 13, 2010

    Argh! I am so sorry you guys had to go through this! Thanks forth tips!

  • Erika - September 13, 2010

    Wow!! My daughter has had a cough for a month now and we have been to the dr a handful of times! I have been researching coughs alot and whooping cough keeps coming up! I am on the east coast but read about the large number of cases in CA !! Good Luck and I hope she is feeling better. I am the same way about antibiotics but in this case I would give them given the situation!

    • Leisa - December 13, 2014

      My daughter (up to date on all vaccinations!) contracted whooping cough three years ago. She had it ALL summer and threw up with her coughs. It was horrible!!! The quarantine was horrible, too!!! No one else in the house caught it, including her younger sister, thank goodness. We don’t ever want it back, but unfortunately it looks like you can get it back AND it is back in our area now.

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I'm Katie Dillon, a freelance luxury travel writer who lives in seaside La Jolla, CA. This is where I document my recent trips around the world, the latest San Diego happenings and other fun lifestyle topics. Thanks for stopping by!

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