The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a vaccine to prevent tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough), to vaccinate people 65 or older. The vaccine, marketed under the trade name Boostrix, is given as a single-dose booster shot and is the first vaccine approved to prevent all three diseases in older people.

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes respiratory illness. Pertussis is characterized by a cough that can last a month or more, and can cause pneumonia and death. In Montana, the number of reported cases of pertussis has increased in the last three years, with 72 reported cases already in 2011.

Unvaccinated infants and school-age children are most at risk during pertussis outbreaks, but infections can occur in any age group, especially in settings where people are close together. Outbreaks have occurred in nursing homes and hospitals, said Anna Whiting Sorrell, director of the Montana Department of Health and Human Services.

DPHHS urges all persons, including those older than 65 years of age, who have contact with infants, and those who have not yet received a dose of adult pertussis vaccine, to be immunized.

The bacteria that causes tetanus that live in soil, dust, and manure, and usually enters the body through wounds. Tetanus causes paralysis. Diphtheria usually causes sore throat, swollen glands, fever, and chills. If not properly diagnosed and treated, serious complications such as heart failure or paralysis can result. Both tetanus and diphtheria are rarely reported in Montana; however pertussis outbreaks continue to occur statewide.