To you or me, whooping cough may amount to nothing more than an annoying cough that just won't quit. It has been dubbed the 100 day cough. However, to a newborn or infant less than 1 year old, this respiratory infection can quickly turn serious, causing difficulty breathing, apneic episodes and (most likely) an in-hospital stay.
For this mom, her newborn's illness with whooping cough was a scary reality. She had become ill just days before giving birth. Unfortunately, her newborn became infected and spent a month in the hospital until she was stable enough to return home.
Our most vulnerable
Newborns and infants are our most vulnerable. They are the ones most affected by this bacterial respiratory infection. They are not yet able to be fully immunized and their small, immature airways are most susceptible to the inflammation and swelling that happens as breathing passages are attacked.
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital, recently blogged about ways for families to cocoon a newborn. It's a fantastic idea and one that could potentially save a young life. By insisting that those around your newborn are immunized against whooping cough, you are essentially cutting down that baby's risk of infection to almost zero. Her simple, yet effective solution? A polite, but clear email to all friends and family.
Symptoms of whooping cough
The bacteria causing whooping cough is known as bordetella pertussis. It is extremely contagious via respiratory droplets and hand-to-hand transmission. Soon, it infects the airways, initially causing symptoms that mimic the common cold. Runny nose, sneezing, and a mild cough soon evolve into that terrible sounding cough within 1-2 weeks.
Children suffer from terrible coughing spasms, where they have trouble catching their breath, may turn red or purple in the face, and may vomit afterwards. Upon taking a deep breath, an inspiratory whoop can be heard.
Up to 75 percent of infants who come down with whooping cough will need in-hospital care to support their breathing and monitor for complications such as pneumonia or seizures. It can be life threatening.
This is a vaccine preventable disease. Vaccines in the form of DTaP and TdaP remain our primary defense. Making sure your child receives her vaccines in a timely manner is of utmost importance.
Since immunity begins to wane during adolescence, children 11-18 years old will need a booster in the form of TdaP. As will adults and grandparents if it's been more than 10 years since their last whooping cough vaccine.
Please, please... cocoon those newborns indeed. Pregnant women not previously immunized should also receive this vaccine during their third trimester.
Dr. Mom's Bottom Line^ With an uptick in outbreaks in states across the U.S., including California and Washington (where an epidemic has been declared this year), it's more critical than ever for parents to know the importance of prevention. Especially for our most precious and most vulnerable.