What you Need to Know About Whooping Cough

Whooping cough, or pertussis as the docs call it, has made a roaring comeback in the U.S., and nowhere are the effects more devastating than here in California where the epidemic recently claimed its tenth little life — a 6-week-old ex-preemie who was too young to be protected by vaccines.

This dangerous respiratory infection is caused by a highly contagious bacteria known as bordetella pertussis. Early symptoms may be hard to distinguish from the common cold – runny nose, congestion, sneezing, red, watery eyes, a mild fever and coughing.  The coughs may have a high-pitched “whoop” sound when the sick person is trying to draw in the next breath of air.

The problem is that tiny babies – who aren’t protected from the illness until they’ve had the full series of immunizations by at least 6 months – almost never present with typical symptoms that would point to the diagnosis. More often they start out with non-specific signs like low-grade fever and irritability, followed by rapid breathing and cough — without the classic whoop that’s the tip-off in older kids and adults.

Right off the bat, the tiny guys are at a disadvantage in two big ways: inadequate protection and unrecognizable symptoms and signs. Add to that their immature immune systems that are still gearing up to deal with the big microbe-filled world, and you can see how it’s a set-up for the fight of their brand new lives.

So these little ones have to rely on other people who have been immunized to protect them from spreading the infection. In the medical community it’s generally agreed that if 90 percent of the population is vaccinated, the vulnerable are protected (so-called herd immunity). And since protection wanes and doesn’t last a lifetime, public health experts recommend that all teens and adults, particularly those who are around young babies, get pertussis vaccine boosters and that all children of vaccine age be reviewed to make sure their immunizations are up-to-date.

Which brings us to the question of parents who choose not to immunize their kids. Most parents who struggle with issues of whether and when to immunize are focused on what they see as the safest and best decision for their child.  Whooping cough is a perfect example of why this shouldn’t be the only consideration. Herd immunity is the only way to protect children who are too young or too ill to be protected themselves.

What should you do? Get vaccinated if you haven’t. Make sure your children are vaccinated. Anyone coming into contact with newborns needs to be vaccinated to create a “cocooning strategy” where newborns are protected because the older people around them have been vaccinated and won’t pass it on.

We can’t ignore this epidemic any longer. Babies are dying, and all of us are responsible.

Email This Post Email This Post

Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

Warning: Illegal string offset 'echo' in /home/mamasonc/public_html/mama/wp-content/themes/hybrid/library/extensions/custom-field-series.php on line 157

One response to “What you Need to Know About Whooping Cough”

  1. Trish Parnell

    We love you pediatricians! Thanks for writing about whooping cough. Sounds like something grandma had as a child, but it continues to circulate, waxing and waning in number of infections each year. We hope the teens and adults reading your post will check with their providers about keeping up-to-date with their vaccinations.

Leave a Reply




With One or Both of Us

Go to AskDrMama.com & AskMamaEllen.com for the scoop!

Phone • Internet • Your Home or Group

Watch This!

Learning about mental illness and how to talk about it is key to good parenting and healthy living. Take a look. It's oh, so common!

What You Said

  • 33Harrison: I must say it was hard to find your page in google. You write great articles but you should rank your...
  • Lisa jacobs: My daughter was in a car accident and now has a concussion. She is plan to go to Mexico City which is a...
  • sexy dresses: I go to see each day a few sites and sites to read content, except this weblog offers quality based...
  • tap sports baseball 2016 hack: Thanks for finally talking about >Pack it! Lunch Ideas Theyre Sure to Go For...
  • RF: Well my baby had her first two bottom theeth at 10 months old and i tought so far so good and then now at 11...
  • ΠΡΟΓΝΩΣΤΙΚΑ ΟΠΑΠ: It’s remarkable designed for me to have a web page, which is beneficial for my experience....
  • sportsbooktop: Please let me know if you’re looking for a writer for your site. You have some really good posts...
  • Kristen: Cassandra, I get these little white bubble type blisters on my hand that sometimes dont itch and sometimes...
  • discount nfl clothing: discount nfl clothing cheap nfl jerseys free shipping paypal
  • Desley Joyce Brooker: I have a rash, that began over 5 weeks ago on my chest and within days it covered by entire...

Just so you know

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.