Pertussis among us: Have you been immunized against whooping cough?

Immunization Poster2500p

Pertussis has been in the news recently, with 17 cases of the disease – also known as whooping cough – in Ada County reported since October 1. This year, 58 cases of pertussis have been reported statewide compared to 83 last year and 194 in 2015. While the numbers are going down, pertussis cases trend like a wave so we could see rising numbers in the coming years, and it’s a good time to remind everyone to get immunized.

Even adults?

Definitely adults, especially those who have contact with babies. Babies can’t start getting vaccinated until they’re two months old, and they don’t have high levels of protection until they are 6 months old. If adults are vaccinated, there is less of a risk of passing the highly contagious disease to an infant.

So babies are most at risk?

Yes– babies are most at risk of getting very sick or dying. About half of infants younger than a year old who get the disease need to be hospitalized.  About 1 in 4 infants hospitalized with pertussis get pneumonia, and about two-thirds will have slowed or stopped breathing. In a small number of cases, the disease can even be deadly. Infants are most often infected by family members or members of the same household. In fact, a person with pertussis will infect almost everyone in their household who isn’t immunized.

When do parents need to get their babies immunized?

For best protection, children need five doses of DTaP before they start school. The first dose is recommended when babies are 2 months old. They need two more doses after that, given when they are 4 months old and 6 months old, to build up high levels of protection. Booster shots are recommended to maintain that protection when they are 15-18 months old and again when they are 4-6 years old.

I’ve heard that protection from the vaccination wanes over time.

Vaccine protection for pertussis can decrease with time, but it’s still the best way to protect babies and prevent disease. Preteens should get a booster vaccine, called Tdap, when they are 11 or 12. Adults need to be immunized as well, even if they were immunized as babies or children. And if you’re getting a routine tetanus booster, which is recommended every 10 years, go ahead and ask about the Tdap vaccine, which vaccinates against tetanus, diphtheria, AND pertussis, all at the same time.

Should pregnant women be immunized as well?
Expectant mothers should get one dose of Tdap during each pregnancy, preferably at some time during the 27th through 36th week of pregnancy. By doing this, the mother will develop protective antibodies against pertussis and pass them to the baby before birth. These antibodies will provide the baby some short-term protection against pertussis before the baby is old enough to get immunized. Tdap also will protect the mother before she delivers, making her less likely to get it and transmit it to her baby.

A Closer Look at Your Health airs weekly on KBOI Newsradio 670 AM in Boise; this is the transcript from the Dec. 19, 2017 program. 

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