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Although pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is considered by many to be an illness of the past, the CDC has established new guidelines advising expecting moms, family members, and caregivers to get vaccinated before baby arrives, even if they’ve had it before.

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So why the change in the recommendation?

“Several factors have contributed to the increase in the incidence of whooping cough in communities,” said Dr. Steven Shapiro, Chair of Pediatrics Department at Abington Memorial Hospital. “There has been a general trend toward immunization avoidance – especially for adolescents – and a tendency for adults to remain under-immunized.”

As a result, Dr. Shapiro says these factors, combined with the fact that the current vaccine, while well tolerated, does not provide as robust an immune response, has created the “Perfect Storm” for a resurgence of this contagious disease.

Pertussis is an extremely contagious respiratory tract infection that occurs when thick mucus accumulates in the airways, causing uncontrollable coughing that ends with a high pitched “whoop” sound during the next breath of air. Although early signs of the disease resemble the common cold, symptoms typically get worse after a week or two, resulting in vomiting, extreme fatigue and severe cough.

Before the vaccine was developed, the disease was largely considered to be one that only affected people during childhood. Today, while it mostly affects young children who haven’t completed the full set of vaccinations, it also impacts teens and adults whose immunity has faded over time.

Although death is rare, it most commonly occurs in infants under two months of age—making the urgency to prevent the disease from spreading even stronger. While the CDC previously advised parents to make sure everyone who frequently interacted with the baby received a whooping cough vaccination, this approach—also known as cocooning—wasn’t very effective since many people skipped their booster shots.

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As a result, they now recommend women between 27 and 33 weeks of gestation receive a dose of the adult dTaP vaccine. By doing so, the protective anti-pertussis antibodies can pass through the placenta to the fetus and protect the newborn until they’re able to develop the antibodies on their own.

But it’s not only expectant mothers who should receive the vaccine.

“As a general rule, there is a consistent theme to have all people surrounding the newborn, including the other parent, siblings, and extended family members, along with any other caretakers be properly immunized,” said Dr. Shapiro. “This method spreads the protection as far as possible for the child.”

He also added that parents registering a child for Kindergarten will need to show proof that their child has received five doses of the vaccine. Additionally, students entering middle school must show that they have received a booster dose by age 11 or 12.

If you’re not sure if you or your child is up to date on his or her pertussis immunizations, Dr. Shapiro advises that you be sure to contact your primary care physician or pediatrician.


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