Protect Your Baby from Deadly Whooping Cough

Submitted by Holly McKiel, DO

Of all the things you will do to protect your baby throughout his/her life, some of the most important will occur while you’re still pregnant! Whooping cough, or pertussis, can be a deadly disease for infants. You can help prevent it with the Tdap vaccine during the third trimester of your pregnancy.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. It is spread by coughing, sneezing or close contact with an infected individual. In adults, it usually causes cold like symptoms with “fits” of coughing followed by gasps for air, and can sometimes result in broken ribs, vomiting, fainting and loss of bladder control. In infants however, coughing may not occur. Instead, babies may stop breathing and turn blue. The younger the infant, the more dangerous and more likely they will need to be hospitalized. About half of all babies younger than 1 year old infected with pertussis will need to be admitted to the hospital for treatment. Of those babies in the hospital, 1 in 4 will develop pneumonia, and others may suffer from convulsions, or uncontrollable, violent shaking, swelling of the brain or even death.

Cases of whooping cough have been on the rise in recent years, reaching 10,000 to 50,000 infections each year. Every state, including Delaware, has reported such cases. Since 2010, approximately 10 to 20 babies have died each year from whooping cough infections, most of who were too young to be vaccinated

So how can you prevent this from happening to you or your child? The answer is the Tdap vaccine. Tdap stands for Tetanus toxoid, reduced Diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis. Infants are unable to be vaccinated against pertussis before 2 months of age. This leaves them vulnerable to infection during the time they are at the highest risk of complications. However, by receiving the Tdap vaccine during the third trimester of pregnancy, you are able to develop antibodies to the bacteria and pass them to your unborn baby. This will help protect them from whooping cough before they can be vaccinated themselves.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives all agree that the Tdap vaccine should be given between 27 and 36 weeks during each and every pregnancy. Even if you have received the vaccine during your first pregnancy, it is important to get it again with every pregnancy thereafter. Whooping cough antibodies will decrease over time and one vaccine may not be enough to protect your next baby.  Revaccinating helps ensure that each child has the most protection from pertussis during its critical early months.

It is also important to encourage anyone who will have direct contact with the baby to get the Tdap vaccine as well. Family members and other caregivers should receive the Tdap vaccine at least 2 weeks prior to contact with your baby. This helps ensure a “cocoon” of pertussis protection around the infant.

The Tdap vaccine is safe for both you and your baby. There is no risk of contracting pertussis from the vaccine, as there are no live bacteria in it. In the United States, the vaccine is also free of thimerosal, the mercury containing preservative. Serious adverse side effects are extremely rare. The most common side effects seen after receiving the vaccine are redness, swelling and tenderness at the injection site, all of which are mild and resolve within a few days. It is also safe and even beneficial to breastfeed after receiving the vaccine, as the protective antibodies you develop will be passed through breast milk to your baby. Lastly, there is no known risk of harmful pregnancy complications such as low birth weight or preterm delivery if you are vaccinated with Tdap while pregnant.

Be sure to ask your OB provider at your next prenatal visit about receiving the Tdap vaccine during your third trimester!

If you are pregnant and do not have a physician, or if you are new to the area and don’t know where to start your women’s health journey, call Beebe’s Women’s Health Nurse Navigator Carrie Snyder, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC, at (844) 316-3330 or email womenshealth@beebehealthcare.org.

Holly McKiel, DO, is an Obstetrician/Gynecologist who is member of the Beebe Medical Staff and sees patients at Bayside Health Association in Lewes and Georgetown. She is a graduate of the University of Delaware and received her medical degree from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

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