It may seem like recently there has been a lot of press about the whopping cough. That is with good reason. There is currently an epidemic of whooping cough in California (800 cases diagnosed in the last two weeks) and outbreaks in many other areas of the United States (including NY). A lot of people don’t know much about this disease. This article is aimed at helping you understand what the whopping cough is, why it is dangerous and how you can protect your babies.

What is the Whooping Cough?

The medical term for whooping cough is pertussis. It is a highly contagious infection of the respiratory tract. In adults, it may cause severe cold like symptoms and a cough accompanied why a characteristic “whoop” which is how the disease got its name. But, not everyone who contracts the disease will whoop. Adults and older children may have a bad cold and not know they are contagious and capable of spreading the disease. In infants and young children, or in people whose immune system is not working well, pertussis can cause severe illness and even death. Infants may not cough at all. Instead, they may have life-threatening pauses in breathing or struggle to breathe. Any time someone is struggling to breathe, you should call 911.

Why Do We Care about Pertussis?

Infants less than 6 months old are at highest risk of getting pertussis. As mentioned above, the consequences of pertussis in a young infant can be very serious. Around 50 percent of children less than 1 years old diagnosed with pertussis are hospitalized. Of infants less than one hospitalized with pertussis, 1-2 out of 100 will die from the disease. These are some serious statistics.

Is There a Vaccine to Protect Against Whooping Cough?

Yes. Infants start their initial DtaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) immunization series at 2 months of age.  Pertussis vaccines are recommended for people of all ages. Infants and children should get 5 doses of DTaP for maximum protection. A dose is given at 2, 4 and 6 months, at 15 through 18 months, and again at 4 through 6 years. A booster dose of Tdap is given to preteens at 11 or 12 years of age.

Because immunity can wain over time, it is recommended that any one in close contact with infants 6 months or younger receive another Tdap as an adult. The exception to this is pregnant woman who should have the booster with each pregnancy. You need this vaccine even if you had actual pertussis disease in the past as having the disease does not mean you can’t get it again. Current guidelines state that an adult can have the Tdap regardless of when the last Td (tetanus and diphtheria protection only NO pertussis) was given.

 How do I protect my baby against Whooping Cough?

Get the pertussis vaccine with each pregnancy between 27-36 weeks gestation. By getting the vaccine during pregnancy, mothers will develop antibodies to pertussis that are transferred to the newborn. The transference provides some level of protection to infants less than two months old who are too young to get the vaccine.

Make sure anyone in close contact with your baby has had the Tdap vaccine. This includes family members, baby nurses, caregivers and friends. Adults, unless pregnant, only require one Tdap during their lifetime. Household members and caregivers are responsible for infants getting pertussis about 80 percent of the time. Having everyone immunized significantly decreases the chances of your baby contracting pertussis.

As always, if you have questions or want to discuss this further, reach out to us. Our primary goal is to keep your children and your family happy and healthy.