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Whooping Cough: What You Need to Know



You may have seen the headlines, especially if you live in California. But, in case you’ve missed it… California is in the midst of perhaps the worst whooping cough (pertussis) epidemic in 50 years. There have been 2,174 cases reported and tragically, seven infants have died this year in the state.

So, why are we seeing such a rise in whooping cough when it is supposed to be a vaccine preventable disease? If every child gets his shots on time, wouldn’t the germ have no one to infect?

I wish it were that simple. But the world of infectious diseases is very complex. Getting every child his vaccinations on time goes a long way in preventing this disease, though. Here are a few hurdles:

1. Whooping cough epidemics occur in cycles about every 3-5 years. The last major epidemic was in 2005, so it was bound to happen.

2. Immunity to whooping cough does not last forever — whether you are vaccinated for protection or even if you have had the disease. Teens and adults lose their immunity over time. That’s why it is so important to get the whooping cough booster shot (called Tdap).

3. Babies under two months of age are too young to be vaccinated. And they do not have adequate immunity until they have received at least three doses of whooping cough vaccine (at six months of age). So, they rely on those around them to be protected by vaccination and not spread the infection to them. Up to 80 percent of babies get whooping cough from a loved one in their household (most often, it’s spread from their mom).

4. Adults often don’t know they have the illness. It may look like a common cold at the beginning of the infection and then it becomes a cough that just lingers on forever (whooping cough is also known as the “100 Day Cough”). People are contagious for the first four weeks of the illness.

So, what can you do to protect you and your family from whooping cough? Make sure your child is up to date on his shots and make sure you are, too! If you can’t remember the last time you got your tetanus shot (or the last time you got one was from your own pediatrician!), you need to roll up your sleeve and get the Tdap (Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis). You can get the Tdap vaccine from your doctor or even at your local pharmacy/grocery store. You just have to ask for it. No excuses!

It is such a major public health issue that the state of California has expanded its vaccine recommendations beyond the standard vaccination schedule. Californians who are ages 7 and up, those over age 64, and pregnant women are included in the expanded recommendations.

Are your vaccinations up to date? What about your child’s? Share your comments with the Baby’s First Year Community.


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