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Though on the rise, whooping cough is preventable

Oct. 31, 2012 @ 11:50 PM

Whooping cough, also called Pertussis is a preventable disease that is on the rise. Cases have been reported in our region. Whooping cough is a very serious condition. It can affect individuals of any age causing significant coughing and difficulty breathing. The most worrisome population to get whooping cough is infants and very young children.

These young patients are not able to fight off the infection as well and whooping cough can result in hospitalization, permanent disability, and even death. Pertussis used to be more common in the very young. However, since vaccination for whooping cough became available, it is now more common in teenagers and young adults who have been vaccinated but the immunity to the disease has worn off. These patients usually have a full recovery if they are affected by whooping cough, but the concern is spreading the disease to a young child or an unvaccinated person while they are infected.

Very young infants usually do not start getting vaccinated until two months of age. Even after one vaccination they are not fully protected, needing vaccinated at 2, 4, 6, and 15-18 months of age. Another vaccine is given around 5 years old and again at 11-12 years of age. The Tdap vaccine contains a Tetanus shot as well as whooping cough/Pertussis vaccine. A tetanus booster should be given once every 10 years after the age of 18. One of these tetanus boosters should be the Tdap vaccine so that immunity to whooping cough is boosted.

Another important population of patients that should be vaccinated is pregnant women. Vaccination of the mother will help prevent Pertussis infection in her infant; this is known as "cocooning." Cocooning is a strategy to protect the infant by having every child and adult who will be around the baby, vaccinated against whooping cough. By surrounding a baby with only people who have been vaccinated, you "cocoon" them against whooping cough. This strategy also works for the flu and other vaccine-preventable illness.

Recently, it has been recommended to give the Tdap vaccine to pregnant women anytime in the second half of pregnancy. The vaccine used to be given to the mother one or two days after delivery. In our practice, the vaccine is typically given with the test for diabetes at 24-28 weeks of pregnancy. By giving the vaccine during pregnancy, some of the immunity is passed through the placenta and protection against whooping cough is thought to be greater. Pregnant patients are always worried about the safety of medicines and vaccines taken during pregnancy, rightfully so. The whooping cough vaccine (and the flu vaccine) is safe and effective and has not been shown to cause autism or other adverse effects.

Ask your health care provider to give you and your family the Tdap vaccine. Encourage others who will be around your baby to get vaccinated. Most local health departments offer the vaccine to patients of all ages for minimal to no cost. Getting a Tdap shot is the best way to avoid getting whooping cough. Most newborns get whooping cough from their family or adults around them. If every child and adult that surrounds a newborn gets a Tdap shot, the likelihood of the baby getting whooping cough approaches zero.

Dr. Ellie Hood, OB/GYN at Valley Health Systems Southside location, 723 9th Ave., Huntington.