Protecting Your Child From Whooping Cough

By John McCarter MD

Utah ranks eighth worse in the country for pertussis cases per capita. Last year, Utah had its highest rate of pertussis infections since 1946. Utah is also 35th in the country for vaccination against pertussis.​​

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​What is pertussis?
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is an acute infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella Pertussis. Until a vaccine (Tdap) for pertussis was created in the 1940s, there were 200,000 cases annually. The spread of the infection reached a low of 1010 cases in 1976 — but that number has been steadily increasing ever since. In 2012, preliminary data showed there were 42,000 cases nationwide.

Utah ranks eighth worse in the country for pertussis cases per capita. Last year, Utah had its highest rate of pertussis infections since 1946. Utah is also 35th in the country for vaccination against pertussis.

Why are OB physicians talking about it?
Pertussis is an important issue because of how dangerous the infection can be, especially for infants. Of all the deaths from pertussis, 83 percent occur in infants under 43 months. 61 percent of babies younger than 12 months who get pertussis end up in the hospital — one in 100 will die.

Mothers are usually responsible
In 2010 — 27,550 cases of pertussis were reported in the United States; 3,350 of those cases were in infants younger than six months of age — 25 of those infants died. Studies have shown when the source of pertussis was identified; mothers were responsible for 30–40 percent of infant infections.

The vaccine crosses the placenta
Transplacental transfer of maternal pertussis antibodies from mother to infant may provide protection against pertussis in early life, before beginning the primary DTaP series. There is evidence of efficient transplacental transfer of pertussis antibodies to infants.

The effectiveness of maternal antibodies in preventing infant pertussis is not yet known, but pertussis antibodies can protect against some disease and the severe outcomes that come along with it. A woman vaccinated with Tdap vaccine during pregnancy will also protect her from pertussis at time of delivery and will make her less likely to transmit pertussis to her newborn infant.

Cocooning is an option
Another way to protect infants from pertussis is to vaccinate those in close contact with them – this method is known as “cocooning.” ACIP, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, has recommended cocooning with Tdap vaccine since 2005. Cocooning enhances maternal vaccination to provide maximum protection to the infant. In addition to vaccinating mothers-to-be, dads, grandparents and other caregivers should be encouraged to get vaccinated with Tdap at least two weeks before coming into contact with the newborns.

If you are interested in finding out about pertussis outbreaks in your aread visit Intermountain Healthcare's Germwatch