What is the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine?
The DTaP vaccine is a combined vaccination which protects from the onset of three distinct bacterial diseases, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (more commonly known as whooping cough).
This vaccine is usually given to children 11 or 12 years old, but is recommended for everyone who did not receive it as a child (except those with an allergy to the components of the formula, Guillain Barré syndrome, or certain other conditions).
The vaccine is particularly important for travelers who may come into contact with these diseases, and pregnant women as it can transmit pertussis antibodies to their children.
What is tetanus?
Tetanus is a rare but serious infection caused by the bacteria Clostridium tetani entering a wound. Common sources are cuts in the skin from objects contaminated with soil, feces, or saliva, usually nails or needles.
Symptoms take an average of 10 days to appear, and include muscle contractions, particularly in the jaw, difficulty swallowing, fever, and stiffness and pain throughout the body.
According to the CDC, tetanus is fatal in 10-20% of cases.
What is diphtheria?
Diphtheria is a disease caused by a bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheriae. It spreads from person to person, usually through sneezing, or through contact with contaminated objects.
Symptoms include fever, sore throat, swelling of the neck glands, and weakness. In some cases, the infection can lead to complications such as breathing problems, heart failure and, eventually, death.
It’s found in Africa, South America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central and South East Asia where vaccine coverage is low.
What is pertussis (whooping cough)?
Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is infection of the lungs and airways caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. Endemic throughout the world, it is spread in the droplets released by coughs and sneezes.
First symptoms are similar to a cold, and include a blocked or runny nose, red, watery eyes, fever and fatigue.
About a week later, uncontrollable coughing spells begin, which can make it difficult to breathe. The disease can affect anyone at any age, and is particularly risky for infants and young children.
Who should get the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine?
These three diseases can be found in various regions around the world and travellers are at risk of being exposed to one or more of them.
Travellers are advised to ensure their immunisation against tetanus is up to date, while several countries outside the UK promote pertussis vaccination for adults with the aim of protecting new borns, although evidence for its effectiveness is limited. Diphtheria is a risk for travellers to countries where there is low uptake of the diphtheria vaccine.
Therefore, travellers seeking protection from one or more of these diseases may find it most convenient to receive the 3-in-1 jab before they leave the UK.
Who should not get the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine?
The vaccine is not recommended if you have:
- an allergy to the vaccine or any of its ingredients
- neurological problems, including poorly controlled epilepsy
- a fever at the time of vaccination.
You should consult your doctor for more information, and check the vaccine is suitable for you.
How long before a trip do you have to get the DTaP vaccine?
You should ensure you’ve had a full primary course of the vaccine, and receive a booster every 10 years if you plan to travel to an area where diphtheria, tetanus or pertussis are considered high risk, and where access to medical treatment may be difficult.
How effective is the DTaP vaccine?
Once you have received the full schedule of doses required, protection is estimated to be 99% effective.
What are the side effects of the DTaP vaccine?
As with all vaccines, some people may have minor side effects, such as swelling, redness or tenderness where the injection is given. Sometimes a small painless lump develops, but it usually disappears in a few weeks.
How many jabs are needed?
If you had the DTaP vaccination as a child in the UK, and your last dose was more than 10 years ago, you may need a single booster jab of the DTaP vaccine to ensure you are protected when you travel.
What is the minimum age requirement for the DTaP vaccine?
Routine DTaP vaccination usually begins at 2 months of age, and children should get 5 doses of the DTaP vaccine before age 7.
How long does the DTaP vaccine last?
The DTaP vaccination is only given once. However, boosters to protect against tetanus and diphtheria may be required every 10 years, especially for people who travel.