pregnant woman

Pregnant? Protect Your Baby From Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

With all the worry about the flu, it’s easy to lose track of other important diseases causing increased concern. Pertussis is a very contagious bacterial illness our parent’s generation thought they had controlled, but has increased significantly over the last 7 years. 

Why? One of the earlier pertussis vaccines caused some concerning risks in a small part of the population, so the vaccine was changed to one that doesn’t cause those concerns. But now we are finding out that the protection from the new vaccine doesn’t last as long as before, leaving an unprotected group of people able to get sick and pass on the virus.

  • Pertussis starts like a basic cold, with a runny nose, slight fever, sometimes a cough, 
  • In babies, if can result in long pauses in breathing, called ‘apnea’, which can be dangerous if the baby isn’t getting enough air.)
  • Over time, symptoms worsen to repetitive coughing fits that push out all the air in the lungs until the person is forced to breath in really hard for air, creating the “whoop” sound.
  • The breathing muscles become exhausted, making it tougher to get good air.
  • People may cough so hard they throw up blood.

Babies are especially at risk of pertussis. 50% of babies with pertussis require hospitalization. I have known of infected babies ending up on ventilators. Some passed away. For an real mom’s perspective, click here.

Babies can not get the vaccine until 2 months old, and need to get any protection they do have from antibodies that are passed on from mom before they are born. Additional protection comes from household and other close contacts that are protected and not ill.

The CDC recommends a Tdap booster vaccines:

  • During each pregnancy to help protect babies.
    • Since babies can not get the vaccine until they are 2 months old, they are left vulnerable during a very high risk time of their lives.
    • The way to protect them is for pregnant women to get a booster Tdap between 27 weeks and 36 weeks of pregnancy (preferably during the earliest part of that range). This gives 2 weeks for the mom to develop protective antibodies, and then some extra time for those antibodies to be transferred to baby before birth.
    • The booster is needed with EACH pregnancy since the antibody protection the mom has wears off. All other household contacts of the baby should be up-to-date on the Tdap booster, as well.
  • For teens and adults who have not had the booster and
  • For anyone who will be near an infant < 12 months old. This helps boost the public immunity to pertussis and keep the infections down.

Check with your doctor to see if you should get a pertussis booster. Get more information here.

Stay healthy!

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