Preventing Pertussis

April 13, 2012 Swedish Blogger


We currently have a pertussis (whooping cough) epidemic occurring in Washington State. Infants under 6 months of age are particularly vulnerable but anyone, even if you are fully vaccinated, could potentially contract the disease and spread it.

(Is it really an epidemic? Yes: an epidemic (of a disease) affects many persons at the same time, and spreading from person to person in a locality where the disease is not permanently prevalent.)

Pertussis (whooping cough) is a very contagious disease caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. Among vaccine-preventable diseases, pertussis is one of the most commonly occurring ones in the United States (CDC).

What are the symptoms of whooping cough?

The early signs for pertussis are runny nose, coughing and sneezing just like the common cold and spreads through droplets in the air when infected people cough or sneeze. For infants less than 6 months old, the disease can be potentially very serious but the symptoms can be mild in older children and adults. In fact, approximately 83% of infants who contract pertussis are infected by a parent, older sibling, or other caregiver who didn’t know they were sick.

The ‘classic’ pertussis disease progression:

  • Stage 1 (7-10 days): common cold-like symptoms 7-10 days
  • Stage 2 (4 - 6 weeks): Cough is intense, often with a "whoop", and coughing spasms that can cause vomiting, rib fractures and may require hospitalization. For infants they can have a disruption in their breathing called apnea. Babies might turn reddish, purplish, or bluish. If your baby is having difficulty breathing they need to see a healthcare provider immediately

  • Stage 3 (2 - 6 weeks): Symptoms gradually resolve during this stage but can occur for 6 months or longer.

So, what is considered ‘best practice’ for protecting your newborn?

Cocooning. This is the practice where the primary caregivers and anyone who will regularly be coming in contact with the baby gets vaccinated in order to provide a ‘cocoon’ of protection around the baby. This would be the baby’s parents, siblings, grandparents, day care workers, and healthcare providers. It is recommended that pregnant women get vaccinated in the third trimester in order to build up an immunity and pass that along to the fetus so that they’re better protected when they’re born.

The practice of cocooning showed remarkable results in California. In 2010, California had 9154 reported pertussis cases with infants less than 6 months contracting the disease at a rate of 435 per 100,000 people. 10 infants, all less than 3 months old, died of the disease. California implemented a cocoon vaccination plan and in 2011 the number of cases dropped to 2795 with no deaths from whooping cough. This was the first time since 1991 that there were no deaths from pertussis in California.

Talk to your doctor about getting a vaccine, especially if you’re pregnant, or if you will be in contact with a newborn.


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