Whooping cough sounds like something a pioneer child would catch. Maybe from trudging through the dust behind her Conestoga wagon.
No doubt there were plenty of cases back then, and not a darn thing they could do about it. Now, there is something we can do, and if you’ve ever had pertussis (whooping cough), or watched a loved one go through it, you would get vaccinated as fast as the wheels of your car could take you to the nearest immunization clinic.
Pertussis is a highly contagious and potentially deadly bacterial infection that makes life absolutely miserable at any age, but is particularly dangerous for babies.
The sounds of pertussis are like no other, marked by a “whoop” made when babies are gasping for breath after a severe coughing attack.
More than half of babies with pertussis are hospitalized. Coughing can be so severe that it’s hard for babies to eat, drink or breathe and they can suffer from these complications:
• Babies may bleed behind the eyes and in the brain from coughing.
• The most common complication is bacterial pneumonia. About 1 child in 10 with pertussis also gets pneumonia, and about 1 in every 50 will have convulsions.
• Brain damage occurs in 1 out of every 250 people who get pertussis.
• Pertussis causes about 10-15 deaths a year in the United States.
Pertussis spreads through droplets from the mouth and nose when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.
Because it’s most contagious during the first two weeks of infection when symptoms resemble a cold, pertussis just zips through a household. A parent, grandparent or babysitter suffering from what seems like a cold can actually have pertussis and spread the disease to the baby.
Babies don’t start the series of vaccines that include pertussis until they’re two months of age, and they don’t get the final dose until they’re at least four years of age, although they’re fairly protected by the time they’re one year old. But until then and particular when they’re under six months of age, no one should be around them who’s not received the booster shot as an adolescent or adult.
Half of babies with pertussis are infected by their parents. Most unvaccinated children living with someone who has pertussis will get the disease, and 90 percent of pertussis-associated deaths have been among babies less than a year old.
This is why it’s so important for parents and other family members to get the pertussis vaccine themselves to help “cocoon” babies and young children when they are most vulnerable to the dangers of pertussis.