Take steps to prevent your baby from getting whooping cough
By Mary Wade Triplett
Or perhaps a grandmother who doesn’t realize she is a “silent” carrier of whooping cough babysits her new granddaughter.
Newborn and young babies are very susceptible to illness. One of those diseases, pertussis, or whooping cough, is very contagious and can result in hospitalization and even death for a baby. A couple of cases have cropped up in Monongalia County recently.
Four years ago, in another area of the country, Jazzlyn’s parents learned about whooping cough in the most devastating way. About three weeks after Jazzlyn was born, she developed a cough.
Al the onset whooping cough can seem like a common cold, but a hallmark, crow-like cough—a noise made as the sufferer struggles to take deep breaths—develops and can worsen.
Jazzlyn’s pediatrician recommended a humidifier, but several days later, she began having trouble breathing. Her parents took her to the emergency department. Even though doctors gave Jazzlyn several medications and performed surgery, the baby died just over a month after she was born.
Of those babies who get treatment for whooping cough in a hospital, about one out of four will get pneumonia and one or two out of 100 will die. The younger the baby is when she gets whooping cough, the more likely it is that doctors will need to treat her in the hospital. Other complications include violent, uncontrolled shaking; life-threatening pauses in breathing; and brain disease.
Even though the DTaP vaccine protects babies against pertussis, as well as diphtheria and tetanus, they cannot get their first dose until the age of 2 months. Five doses are recommended in all: at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 through 18 months and 4 through 6 years old.
Because it takes some time for a child to become fully protected, there are other steps that parents can do to protect their infants. The first one is for the mother to get a Tdap vaccine—the same inoculation, but for anyone 7 years old or older—during pregnancy. The mother should get this vaccine between weeks 27 and 36 of her pregnancy, and the earlier in that time frame, the better.
When a pregnant woman receives a whooping cough vaccine, her body creates protective antibodies and passes some of them to her baby before birth. These antibodies provide the baby some protection against whooping cough until he can receive his series of vaccines.
Although a Tdap vaccine for the pregnant mother, along with following the inoculation schedule for the child, are great first steps to keeping the baby safe from whooping cough, there is more that can be done.
For instance, in addition to following the timetable for baby’s DTaP inoculations, it is recommended that adolescents and adults receive one Tdap vaccine. Take stock of who will be around the baby and assess whether those people are up-to-date on their pertussis shots.
This would include everyone from siblings to grandparents, as well as any other close kin, friends and babysitters who might come into contact with the infant. This is called “cocooning”—surrounding the baby with the protection of vaccinated family and caregivers.
Of course, the world is a big place and you can’t ensure that everyone you might encounter has had their Tdap or DTaP vaccine. Another layer of protection can be added by being careful of the situations you expose your baby to.
An internet search will bring up articles on the etiquette of taking your baby to a social gathering, such as a wedding. And sure, there are parents who want to show off their baby at such functions. But you might want to think twice about such exposure. It’s not healthy for infants—especially very young ones—to be kissed and held by a lot of different people. Adults can carry pertussis without even knowing they have it, and they can unknowingly pass it on to babies.
As with all communicable illnesses, especially as flu season approaches, it is always a good idea to follow these simple rules: Make sure babies and people who will be handling the baby regularly get all recommended vaccines. Limit your young baby’s exposure to people whose vaccine and health status are unknown. And before you or anyone handles your baby, make sure everyone’s hands have been washed thoroughly.
For more information on pertussis, including a video that demonstrates what a “whooping” couch sounds like, check out cdc.gov/pertussis/.