News of a whooping cough death in the Seattle area rang out yesterday. By afternoon, many of my patients in clinic had heard the news. Although the epidemic levels of whooping cough have gradually faded since a peak of cases here in May, the risk is still very real.
A newborn baby died from whooping cough on December 13th here in Washington State.
Newborn babies are at particularly elevated risk for serious complications from pertussis (whooping cough) infections. Unlike older children and adults who often have cough & coughing fits with vomiting, babies can have severe respiratory distress, pauses in breathing, or even stop breathing. Rarely it can be deadly.
Infants are most likely to catch whooping cough from a parent. We have to cocoon newborns everywhere: surround them with people who are vaccinated and less likely to spread whooping cough infection.
This tragic death serves up a reminder for we pediatricians, family docs, and clinicians everywhere to maintain our efforts and amp up our passion to keep babies surrounded by immunized family and friends. We can’t let up.
Are You Up To Date On Your Whooping Cough Shots?
More than anything, we need to ensure family members (mothers, fathers, grandparents, and siblings) all are up-to-date on their whooping cough shot. The shot is imperfect (meaning not everyone who gets the shot is always immune — most estimates find that 80% of us who get the shot are protected) and we know some of our immunity to whooping cough can fade year after year. So the more people immunized the less likely we are to have whooping cough in our community.
- Infants (6 week+) and young children need DTaP shots. Babies get these at 2, 4, 6, and 15 months of age. They are considered “protected” from whooping cough only after that 4th dose at 15 months.
- Age 11 and up: all children, teens, adults need a Tdap shot. Those grandparents needs one, too (even if over 65 years of age).
- Pregnant women need a Tdap shot ideally between week 27 and 36 of pregnancy. Ideally we want moms to get their shot at least 2 weeks before the baby is born to ensure they don’t transmit whooping cough to their newborn.
- OF NOTE: If you’re a pregnant women (or know one) it’s my recommendation that even if you’ve had your Tdap shot before, ask your OB about potentially repeating it during this pregnancy. New preliminary recommendations suggest we may provide improved protection for newborns if women get a Tdap booster dose with every pregnancy.
Best Way To Protect Your Newborn From Whooping Cough
- Always ask any person who holds your baby to wash their hands prior to holding them.
- Make sure everyone in your home is immunized–get all Dads those Tdap shots prior to delivery!
- Ask friends and family to get a Tdap shot at least 2 weeks before they visit your baby. Consider sending out an email. (here’s an example you can copy & paste). Tdap protects the person getting the shot and all those high-risk newborns.
- Don’t allow any sick friends and family into the house. If you’re visiting a newborn this holiday, GO GET YOUR SHOT today. Many pharmacies have Tdap shots and often you don’t need an appointment.
- Although I really do think you need to leave your home (for sanity!!) with your newborn, be extra choosy with where you go with your baby under 2 months of age. Babies are at highest risk for death from pertussis in the first 2 months of life.
- And my unfortunate, unwelcomed piece of advice:
Don’t pass the newborn baby around at holiday parties this year. Minimize exposures as best you can.
Katie A says
This onesie (or one like it) could be a cute baby shower gift – public health reminders are cuter when printed on a baby, right?
Lauren @ the VEC says
If you’re a new or expecting parent and want your family members to help surround your baby with protection from whooping cough by getting the Tdap vaccine, The Vaccine Education Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has a question and answer sheet titled, “Tdap: What you should know,” that you can print and give to family members who may have questions about the Tdap vaccine:
Katie Lockwood says
Lauren– Thanks for sharing the CHOP Tdap sheet.
OB/Gyn’s do a great job of getting post-partum moms vaccinated, but the public health campaign fails to reach dads and grandparents, who are often around newborns just as much and put them at grave risk. I stress the importance of this vaccine to parents at the newborn visit, especially after seeing a 2-month-old die from Pertussis as a resident. The problem is that many of my patient’s parents do not have insurance and their access to care limits them from easily getting this vaccine.
With the epidemic numbers of pertussis that we are seeing, especially in states like Vermont and Washington, where immunization rates are low, we should be thinking of creative solutions to reaching these parents and grandparents in accessible and affordable ways.
What about 8 month old babies? My sister has 7 kids ages 3-13 and none of them are vaccinated. They don’t go to school, but they could all be carriers and infect and kill my daughter, and my sister doesn’t care and won’t vaccinate herself and her kids. I don’t want to be around her or her kids in case I get infected, but if I do end up having to be around them, I’m planning on leaving my baby home when we visit. She says that it is highly unlikely that 8 people are all asymptomatic and infected/carriers, and that if they were ALL somehow asymptomatic carriers, SOMEONE they know would have gotten something from them by now. I think she’s selfish and inconsiderate for not vaccinating herself and her family. Should I avoid all of them until my baby is fully vaccinated?
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
Babies are far less likely to have severe, life-threatening pertussis infections after 6 months of age. If known whooping cough in the home, I’d avoid it if patient has not been treated. Babies are considered to be fully protected from the immunization after their 4th dose (15 month dose). Here’s more info on pertussis in babies:
Raymond South says
watch this video by Dr Blaylock a neurosurgeon