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Pertussis: A Vaccination Could Save a Baby's Life


Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is making an unwelcome reappearance nationwide and in Tillamook County. Characterized by severe coughing spells that end in a "whooping" sound when the person breathes in, cases of this serious respiratory infection have spiked nationwide to more than 25,000 annually. Many of these new cases are in infants younger than 6 months old. Two recent cases of pertussis in Tillamook County resulted in the infants being hospitalized.

The only way to protect children younger than 6 months is to immunize the adults around them from the disease. A parent is implicated in about 25% of infant pertussis cases, and in most of those cases the mother is the source of infection.

"That's a big reason why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends all non-immune mothers be vaccinated immediately after giving birth," stated hospital pharmacist Kyle Connaughton, PharmD. "Children get their own pertussis shots starting at age 2 months and their immunity is mostly established by age 6 months. It's from birth to 6 months that infants have the highest risk for pertussis infection resulting in hospitalization."

The first symptoms of this highly contagious disease are similar to those of a common cold: runny nose, sneezing, mild cough and low-grade fever. After about 1 to 2 weeks, however, the cough evolves into coughing spells in which the child may turn red or purple, may vomit and may even stop breathing for a few seconds. This highly contagious infection can spread quickly to family members and others who are in close contact with someone who has pertussis. Treatment with antibiotics, for 2 weeks, will generally only help stop the spread of the infection to others; it is not highly effective in shortening the length or severity of the illness.

To help stop the possible spread of pertussis through adults around infants, Tillamook Hospital is vaccinating staff in areas such as the Emergency Department who have contact with young children. And hospital Infection Prevention Committee members such as Connaughton and Pat Valenti, RN, would like to see more adults in the community recognize the importance of this vaccination and check to be sure their Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis) immunization is current.

"It's distressing to see an infant suffering needlessly from a preventable illness," shared Valenti. "I strongly encourage all adults under age 65 who will have close contact with an infant younger than 12 months to be sure they are fully immunized against Pertussis."

For women thinking of becoming pregnant, Connaughton advises checking their vaccination records to be sure they are fully immunized prior to pregnancy. A good time for most people to review their immunization records for any boosters or additional vaccinations needed is during their annual check up visit with a health care provider.

Vaccine information sheets prepared by the CDC containing more complete information on various vaccines and the diseases they prevent are available in a number of languages, including Spanish.