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Whooping Cough and the Vaccine

By September 16, 2019 No Comments

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Whooping Cough and the Vaccine

Thanks to the Tdap vaccine, pregnant women can protect themselves and their babies from pertussis before giving birth. Before the whooping cough vaccine was readily available in the early 1940s, pertussis killed 5,000 to 10,000 people each year in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), outbreaks of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, are on the decline across America; however, 16 states are still experiencing a whooping cough epidemic. In an effort to protect newborns from this highly contagious and sometimes fatal respiratory infection, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends pregnant women receive the Tdap vaccine during the third trimester of pregnancy—during every pregnancy thereafter.

While adults with pertussis typically experience only mild symptoms, statistics show half of all infants infected with pertussis become hospitalized. One in five will develop pneumonia, while one in 100 babies will die from the complications associated with the disease. Infants younger than 6 months old have the highest fatality rate from pertussis. Mothers who receive the Tdap vaccine prior to delivery are able to transfer anti-pertussis antibodies through their placenta to the baby in utero. This protection lasts until babies can be vaccinated themselves at 8 weeks old.

Family members and caregivers infected with pertussis often mistake the disease for a bad cold and unknowingly infect young infants and children through coughing or sneezing. In a practice known as “cocooning,” the CDC recommends the Tdap vaccine be given to fathers, siblings, extended family members, caregivers or anyone who may come in close contact with the newborn. Once discharged from the hospital, the vaccination “cocoon” helps ensure newborns are safe from pertussis during their first few months of life.

What might look and feel like a bad winter cold to an adult may actually be pertussis. Mild symptoms of whooping cough can mirror those of the common cold, making it difficult for a healthcare professional to accurately diagnose the disease. Symptoms may include watery eyes, mild fever, nasal congestion, runny nose and a persistent, sometimes uncontrollable, hacking cough, and can generally be treated with antibiotics. Left untreated, pertussis can quickly develop into a more severe condition with additional symptoms, such as vomiting, spikes in fever, extreme fatigue and a high-pitched “whooping” sound when inhaling between coughs. Whooping cough can last for up to 10 weeks, earning the nickname of the “100 day cough.”

A person should seek immediate medical attention if prolonged coughing spells last for more than a few days and avoid any contact with young infants or children.

Sources: cdc.gov (http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/fast-facts.html), cdc.gov (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6207a4.htm), vaccineinformation.org (http://www.vaccineinformation.org/whooping-cough/)