Pertussis, whooping cough in babies

Pertussis, or whooping cough— protect that baby!

If you have a new baby at home or are going to have one anytime soon there are a few things that you will need to do (just a few!) 😂 One of them is to make sure that the people who will be holding your baby👶 are up to date on the pertussis vaccine.

Pertussis coverage is found in the Tdap and Dtap vaccine. Pertussis, otherwise known as “whooping cough,” can make babies very sick. Most children who are up to date on vaccines have gotten their Dtap or Tdap vaccines but it’s common that grandparents 👵 and aunts and uncles may not have gotten theirs in a long time. 

These vaccines protect people from Tetanus and Diphtheria, which are rare, as well as the more prevalent Pertussis bacterial illness (hence the T, D, and P). Over time, the coverage for Pertussis can wear down. What might be a simple cold in an adult can be much more deadly for babies under one year of age, especially newborns.

Children start getting the Dtap at age 2 months.They then get it at 4 months, 6 months, around 15-18 months, and then once more at around age 4 years old. Once they are fully immunized, they can receive the Tdap booster. The Tdap booster is given around age 11. This is sometimes the last time many adults got the vaccine! 💉 

Often times adults don’t get another Tdap vaccine unless they get a rusty cut and need to get a tetanus shot. This shot usually has pertussis coverage (Tdap) in it. So unless grandpa 👴 got a nasty wound in the last year or so, it’s time for a repeat Tdap to protect that new grandbaby! We now know that the immunity can wear down, so many older people are being offered the Tdap vaccine more regularly, especially those with young families. 👨‍👩‍👧‍👧

Pertussis in adults

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are an estimated 16 million cases of pertussis and about 195,000 deaths from this illness per year worldwide. Adults are encouraged to get the Tdap vaccine booster instead of the Td booster so they not only get tetanus and diptheria but they also get the “P”, pertussis coverage. 

Children under 12 months of age are more likely to become seriously ill from pertussis, but anyone can get it. Often times pertussis presents more like just a regular cough or bronchitis, and there is not a “whoop” sound with it.

When people have this prolonged cough, the risk of spreading it becomes more concerning. Those who are in contact with babies who aren’t fully vaccinated yet should be especially careful. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles can spread the illness to their loved ones without even knowing it. 

Pertussis vaccine during pregnancy

Women who are pregnant🤰 are now getting the Dtap vaccine to help pass on some antibody protection to their baby while the baby is still in the womb. This vaccine is especially important since babies can’t get their own protective shot until 2 months of age.

Make sure your partner also gets their vaccine! Keep that baby safe. 👶 Anyone who holds that new bundle of joy should head on in to their primary office, local pharmacy, or urgent care to get their vaccinations up to date. Feel free to contact one of our nurses to discuss whether the Dtap vaccine is right for you.

Whooping cough symptoms

Pertussis is commonly known as “whooping cough.” It can present as a lingering, nagging cough or coughing fits that don’t always seem serious in adults. 😷 The cough lingers for more than 2 weeks and then starts to become more bothersome as mucus builds up. As this happens, coughing fits often follow. The sound that occurs after catching your breath can sound like a “whooping” sound (not to be confused with croup).

Pertussis can cause serious breathing issues, pneumonia, hospitalizations or even death in children under 1 year of age. Some people will turn blue, have pauses in breathing, or have a cough that makes them vomit. 🤮 Any of these concerns should be seen right away. Sometimes in really small infants, the only symptom the little one may have is long, 10-20 second pauses in their breathing, without a cough. If that happens go to the ER or call 911!

Spreading pertussis or whooping cough

Pertussis spreads by coughing and sneezing onto another person. 😷 Most people don’t know that they have pertussis. They can easily spread it to a new baby without knowing it. Older siblings and relatives are most likely to give your baby pertussis. They are most contagious after having the cough for about 2 weeks. Keep anyone with a prolonged nagging cough or with coughing fits far away from your newborn!

If you have any known exposures to whooping cough 😷, call your provider right away. Your provider will decide if you or your child needs to have preventative treatment to protect from the illness. Our nurses would love to chat with you about your concerns or questions as well.

Pertussis treatment

Pertussis, although serious, is treatable with antibiotics. 💊 The treatment is usually very simple. If you have been in contact with anyone with confirmed Pertussis or whooping cough please call your provider right away. 

People who have been exposed to pertussis should be treated. This helps prevent them from getting the illness and then spread the infection. Providers will treat with antibiotics whether the patient has been immunized or not. Pertussis treatment is most important for those in close contact with newborns or pregnant women,🤰 and anyone who is immunocompromised (immune system is suppressed for whatever reason) or who has chronic health issues. This is especially important for those who are in close contact with anyone with pertussis. 

Get that cough checked!

If you think you have any symptoms of Pertussis or “whooping cough” or may have been exposed to the illness, we’d love to chat and help you determine what’s the best next step!

– Kim Liner, RN, MSN, CPNP

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