I’m Worried about Whooping Cough

Grandparents eager to hold the new baby in the family this holiday season should add vaccines to their shopping list.

  • The whooping cough vaccine given to babies and toddlers loses much of its effectiveness after just three years, a lot faster than doctors believed, and that could help explain a recent series of outbreaks in the U.S. among children who are fully vaccinated.The whooping cough vaccine given to babies and toddlers loses much of its effectiveness after just three years, a lot faster than doctors believed, and that could help explain a recent series of outbreaks in the U.S. among children who are fully vaccinated. 
By Rich Pedroncelli, AP
 
  • Anyone who comes into close contact with infants is now urged to get vaccinated against whooping cough, or pertussis. Getting the vaccine now will provide enough time for it to start working by Christmas weekend, but cost could be a barrier for many people.

Last year (2010), the whooping cough epidemic hit hard in Oklahoma, resulting in several infant deaths from an apparent “benign” disease.  (review News on 6 report)

How do you protect your babies against whooping cough?

Being a “pit bull” for your baby is the right thing to do, according to Dr. Eric Scott Palmer, a Nashville neonatologist .  “Not only is there pertussis or whooping cough, but we are entering the influenza and respiratory syncytial virus seasons,” Palmer said. “These are some viral illnesses and bacterial illnesses, such as whooping cough, that can and do kill infants, particularly former premature infants. At family gatherings, while everyone loves babies, the infection control during those times is of critical importance — particularly as it relates to hand-washing.”

Many adults mistakenly believe they are protected against pertussis because they’ve had whooping cough before, while others walk around with the virus without realizing it, said Dr. Kelly Moore, who directs immunization programs for the Tennessee Department of Health. Also, the vaccine wears off over time, so a booster shot is needed about every 10 years.

“People may assume it’s like measles, where you get it once and you never get it again,” Moore said. “Unfortunately, this is something you can get many times. The problem is the symptoms aren’t as classic as measles or chicken pox. People might not even realize they have it because it is not as obvious.”

  • Doctors start vaccinating infants for pertussis at two months old, but protection requires booster shots. Children need five doses of the vaccine, and three of those occur before the age of 1.
  • Another new recommendation from the CDC is that pregnant women get the shot after the 20th week of gestation if they have not been previously vaccinated.

“What is frightening is that people with an ordinary cough illness might not think they have pertussis and might expose a newborn or infant unknowingly,” Moore said. “Small infants or newborns can stop breathing when they have pertussis.”  Here’s what pertussis sounds like in small infants (watch the video)

“The vast majority of pertussis cases are never diagnosed or confirmed,” Moore said, noting that it takes a more sophisticated lab test than a blood check to detect the bacterium.

Protection is provided by the Tdap vaccine, available in your doctor’s office or at the local health department. Whooping cough is one of several winter illnesses that can cause serious complications for infants and people with compromised immune systems. While you’re getting the pertussis vaccine, get the flu shot while you’re already there! 

“The stoic family member who shows up sick at the family Christmas party is probably not doing anyone any favors,” Moore said.

The full article from USA Today is found here!

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