WEDNESDAY, Feb. 22 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. health experts recommended Wednesday that all adults get vaccinated against whooping cough (pertussis), an infectious bacterial disease that triggers uncontrollable coughing and is especially dangerous to infants.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to expand the vaccination recommendation to include all adults, including those aged 65 and older. Specifically, the panel recommended that adults aged 19 and older who have not been vaccinated with the Tdap vaccine should do so.

Tdap protects against whooping cough (pertussis) in older children and adults. It also protects against diphtheria and tetanus. All three illnesses are caused by bacteria, and are potentially deadly diseases.

Children have been vaccinated against whooping cough since the middle of the last century.

Dr. Jennifer Liang, a CDC epidemiologist, explained that the agency had already recommended adult vaccination in 2005 but at the time the advisory did not extend to adults age 65 and older because "there wasn't any pertussis vaccine available for this population."

However, "there was recognition that pertussis isn't just a childhood disease and adults and adolescents get it and pass it to infants," Liang added. Current adult Tdap vaccine coverage is less than 9 percent, she noted.

What's changed, she said, is that "last year one of the Tdap products was approved for use in those 65 and older. So this recommendation is really just to update that and broaden the recommendation to all adults."

Tdap is licensed for single use, Liang said, and "because it's a new vaccine adults should also get it."

Last September, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics each issued revised recommendations for the so-called Tdap vaccine, which protects against whooping cough (pertussis) in older children and adults. The latest recommendation takes the September guidelines a step further.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at New York University in New York City, said he agrees with the new recommendation.

"The original shot only lasts 10 years," he said. In addition, there's a growing problem with pertussis outbreaks in the United States, he noted.

"Adults are often carriers or spreaders with low-grade or full-blown infections, which can be passed on to infants," Siegel said. "The pertussis vaccine can be given as part of the Tdap series every 10 years."

In 2010, more than 21,000 people in the United States got whooping cough, the highest number since 2005 and one of the highest numbers in more than 50 years, federal health officials said.

A whooping cough outbreak in 2010 in California sickened more than 9,100 people and killed 10 infants. That rate of illness was the highest recorded in the state since 1947, according to the CDC.

Whooping cough -- which gets its name from the "whooping" sound children make when they cough -- is easily transmitted and causes severe, uncontrollable coughing. It mainly affects older children and adults, but can be a particularly serious threat to infants who are too young to be immunized. Although children aged 2 months and older receive a similar vaccine known as DTaP, which protects against the same three diseases, pertussis is often transmitted by older, unvaccinated family members, friends and relatives.

According to the CDC, whooping cough is most dangerous for babies -- more than half of infants younger than 1 year old who get the disease have to be hospitalized. About one in five infants develops pneumonia, and in rare cases (one in 100) the disease can be deadly, especially in infants.

"Changes in recommendations for pertussis vaccination have come about as a consequence of the re-emergence of whooping cough," Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told HealthDay. "Vaccination is critical in the pediatric age group because of the higher rate of lung damages, morbidity and mortality of this preventable disease."

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about whooping cough.