MAMAS ALERT: Whooping Cough Epidemic

Seven infants have died in California, and South Carolina has seen an epidemic number of cases of this preventable childhood illness.

Caused by the bordetella pertussis bacteria, infection results in cold symptoms, followed by a severe cough that can make it hard to catch your breath. The rapid intake of air after a coughing fit is what makes the characteristic “whoop” sound.

Infection is particularly dangerous for small infants under 6 months of age who have tiny airways and immature immune systems. Babies are routinely immunized against pertussis, but are not fully protected until 6 months, leaving them vulnerable to infection via parents or other caregivers.

Health officials have announced a broadened vaccination campaign for teens and adults of all ages. Anyone who comes into contact with babies is particularly urged to get the vaccine — even pregnant women and the elderly. Neither the pertussis vaccine nor natural infection gives a person lifelong immunity to whooping cough. Outbreaks tend to occur in five-year cycles, suggesting that immunity wanes within that time.

Pertussis is one of the diseases covered by the three-way DTaP (diphtheria/tetanus/acellular pertussis) vaccine for children under age 7 years and by the three-way booster Tdap vaccine for older children, teens, and adults. There is no standalone pertussis vaccine.

For more information, go to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website.

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.


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The Mama ButtonThe information provided by MamasOnCall is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, but is for information purposes only. You assume full responsibility for the health and well-being of your family. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychiatric condition.