Protect babies from pertussis

Immunity isn’t necessarily forever.

Although the DTaP vaccine is estimated to be about 80% effective in preventing pertussis, that efficacy fades.

Unless you’ve come into contact with pertussis (also called whooping cough), you probably haven’t thought a lot about getting vaccinated, but you should — especially if you’re pregnant or are regularly in contact with young children.

Many adults haven’t had a booster since they were 5 years old, even though new recommendations advise updates at age 11 or a one-time booster dose at any age.

Regular vaccinations may be the best way to stem the rise of the disease that now affects a reported 25,000 to 35,000 people in the United States each year.

What is pertussis?

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes a long-lasting, violent cough. It’s passed through air droplets when someone with the infection sneezes or coughs. People who have it often cough so hard that they break a rib. Pertussis can last for months and, worse, lead to pneumonia.

Anyone can get pertussis, but the disease is most dangerous to small children or people whose health is compromised by other conditions. Getting a booster vaccine can help keep those vulnerable individuals safe.

“The most likely place an infant contracts pertussis is through a parent or caregiver,” said Randall Stoesz, MD, Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Expectant mothers should seek out the vaccine, and new parents should do the same. If grandparents are in close contact with the infants, they too should have the vaccine.

“The FDA just this year gave approval to vaccinate people even if they’re over age 65, so grandparents now have the opportunity to get the vaccine.”

Keeping babies safe from pertussis

It’s the very young who have the worst time with pertussis. Babies are particularly vulnerable because they don’t receive their first vaccination until they’re two months old.

Over his career, Dr. Stoesz has seen two 6-week-old patients contract pertussis and — although they ultimately recovered — each spent weeks in the intensive care unit. Indiana has seen two reported infant deaths from pertussis this year.

St.Vincent Carmel Hospital makes it easy for new moms to protect themselves and therefore their babies against pertussis by offering the vaccine after delivery (unless the new mom has recently been vaccinated). Women can get the vaccine while they’re pregnant, but waiting until after delivery is usually preferable.

“Until they’re old enough to be immunized,” Dr. Stoesz said, “the best way to protect babies is to make sure those who take care of them have been immunized.”

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