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PERTUSSIS: How to Protect Yourself and Your Baby

PERTUSSIS: How to Protect Yourself and Your Baby

By Katherine Spoto

Commonly referred to as whooping cough, pertussis is a contagious bacterial infection that affects the respiratory system. Typical symptoms resemble those associated with the common cold. These include:                                                                             

  • Low fever
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Mild coughing early on

Eventually, the mild cough will progress into a severe cough that can last over ten weeks. In fact, this illness is capable of producing coughing fits violent enough to crack ribs.

Though once considered to be on its way out of the United States, pertussis has reemerged with a vengeance in the past few years. Infection rates have exploded primarily due to clusters of unvaccinated people immigrating to the US. This year, according to the CDC, over 26,146 people have contracted the illness and individual states in the Midwest, Northeast, and those bordering the Great Lakes have seen infection rates double and triple that of the national average.
Anyone is at risk for catching pertussis; however, babies, infants, and young children are particularly at risk. Adults who do end up contracting whooping cough can expect to suffer from cold-like symptoms for several weeks and have a severe cough for at least a couple of months. On the other hand, when the sickness affects children and babies, it can be deadly.

Since pertussis has returned to the US and has become an epidemic, mothers need to be aware of the options available to combating the disease and how pertussis can go undiagnosed in some cases.

The first line of defense for mothers in protecting their babies from pertussis is figuring out whether or not they received the vaccination themselves. If they have not, the CDC recommends pregnant women receive it during the late second or third trimester of pregnancy.

Vaccinating mom during these trimesters will transfer antibodies to the baby to protect it once he or she is born. Otherwise, vaccinating the baby immediately after birth before leaving the hospital is encouraged. Urging other members of the household and family to receive the vaccination will also help to protect baby.

Secondly, scheduling your child or infant for his or her DTaP vaccinations, the pertussis vaccine, will give them an advantage in evading the illness. The CDC recommends five DTaP shots, given at ages 2, 4, 6, months of age. The fourth is administered between 15 to 18 months and the fifth at 4 to 6 years old, or once the child enters school.

Booster vaccines called TDaP fortify a child’s immune system against pertussis. Boosters are always important, especially for mothers. The CDC warns that when whooping cough does affect infants, the mother was responsible for over a third of infections. Ask your doctor at your next checkup if you and your child are both up-to-date on your pertussis vaccinations.

Doctors have also had a difficult time in diagnosing pertussis because it most commonly resembles other respiratory conditions. If your child or infant is suffering from a lingering cough, insist your doctor check for pertussis. The Mayo Clinic outlines three simple tests for confirming pertussis: a nose or throat culture and test, a blood test, and/or a chest x-ray. If your baby or child is having trouble breathing, take him or her to a hospital immediately.