(WTVM) - Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease that can be a parent's worst nightmare.
Cases of the disease have increased dramatically in recent years.
"It has a characteristic 'cough, cough, whoop' type sound and this cough is endless it just keeps going on and on. Adults who have had whooping cough have actually broken ribs from the amount of coughing that you do," explains Dr. Matthew Carter, Pediatrician at the Pediatric Clinic LLC in Opelika.
To help provide protection, the Alabama Department of Public Health is requiring students eleven years of age and older, entering the sixth grade in both public and private schools, to have a tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis vaccine or Tdap.
Also, students entering the seventh, eighth and ninth grades this year who did not receive the vaccination last year are also required to have an up-to-date certification of immunization.
"We have discovered that your immunity from the primary series of vaccines, the first five years of life, the immunity of pertussis fades away and if we can get these kids when they're eleven , we can make them immune and eliminate them as potential carriers," says Dr. Carter.
Pertussis is spread by moisture droplets in the air, usually from coughs or sneezes.
There were more than 200 cases in 2012 in Alabama, and there were 73 cases of Pertussis reported during the first six months of 2013.
The Tdap school requirement will go up by one higher grade each school year. For example, Tdap is required for students entering sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth grades in 2013-2014, sixth through tenth grades in 2014-2015, and up through twelfth grade in 2016-2017.
"The very young and the very old are definitely the most at risk. Babies are the ones that we worry about the most. Babies who get whooping cough can die and that's why we are really trying to get people vaccinated," explains Dr. Carter.
Most insurance companies cover the Tdap vaccine.
However, for those without insurance the Vaccines for Children Program, created by the Alabama department of Public Health, will cover the expense of the shot.
For more information on the program visit this link.