Whooping Cough Making a Comeback — Vaccination is Key

Another fitful night. A mom is awake, listening to her baby cough and trying to comfort him. She will be too worried to sleep tonight. For the past four days, her baby has had trouble eating, drinking, and sleeping because of this awful cough. Tomorrow, she will miss another day of work to care for him. She wonders wearily when it will end. She is exhausted and her baby is miserable. Unfortunately, the end will not come soon because this cough is whooping cough, also called the “100-day cough” because of its long duration.

Whooping cough – or pertussis – is a serious and very contagious respiratory disease that can cause long, violent coughing fits and the characteristic “whooping” sound that follows when a person gasps for air. It takes a toll on anyone, but for infants it can be deadly.

In 2012, more than 48,000 cases of whooping cough and 20 deaths were reported nationally. Most of the deaths were in babies younger than 3 months old. Worldwide, there are about 16 million cases of whooping cough and about 195,000 deaths per year.

Fortunately, there are vaccines that can prevent whooping cough. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that infants and children get the childhood vaccine that includes protection against whooping cough, diphtheria, and tetanus (DTaP) at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 15 through 18 months of age. A booster of DTaP is given at 4 through 6 years of age.

Because protection from DTaP fades over time, CDC recommends another dose of whooping cough vaccine, known as Tdap, for adolescents (ideally at 11–12 years) and women during each pregnancy (ideally in the third trimester). Adults who have never received Tdap should get one dose now. By protecting themselves, older children, new mothers, and other adults can form a cocoon of protection around the babies in their lives that may be too young to be fully protected by DTaP.

Whooping cough vaccines are effective, but like all vaccines, not 100% effective. You can still get the disease even if you’ve been vaccinated. Also, whooping cough often goes undiagnosed since it usually starts with coldlike symptoms, but can become a series of coughing fits that continues for weeks or months. Unfortunately, someone may not even know they have whooping cough and unknowingly spread the disease to others, including babies.

If a midwife suspects whooping cough, a test can be done to confirm the diagnosis. If the diagnosis is made early on, antibiotics can be given to decrease the severity of symptoms and prevent transmission. If you think your or your child’s persistent cough is whooping cough, it’s important to tell the doctor if you will be around an infant. If you think your infant has whooping cough, see a midwife immediately. Sometimes an infant won’t have the hallmark cough or whooping sound, so be alert to any difficulty breathing. To learn more, visit CDC’s whooping cough website at www.cdc.gov/whoopingcough or call 800-CDC-INFO.


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