California is currently fighting a surge in pertussis (commonly referred to as whooping cough) cases, a highly contagious bacterial disease which gives those infected a severe cough that can last for months. Health officials have declared a state-wide epidemic due to the number of cases being reported. In a news release, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has confirmed nearly 3,500 (3,458) cases of whooping cough have been reported since January 1, 2014, a number greater than reported during all of 2013. More than 800 cases have been reported in the last two weeks alone in California.
Young infants are especially vulnerable to this sometimes fatal disease. Newborns are too young to be fully immunized from whooping cough, and babies four months and younger are most often the ones who end up being hospitalized with the disease. So far this year, there have been two infant deaths reported due to whooping cough.
It’s important for pregnant women to get a whooping cough Tdap vaccination in their third trimester each time they are pregnant. While this will not make the infants immune from the disease, it’s the best form of protection available for babies who are too young to be vaccinated.
All infants should also be vaccinated as soon as they are old enough. Children as young as six weeks old can be given the first dose of the whooping cough vaccine. Infants require five doses by kindergarten (ages 4 to 6) as part of the vaccine regimen. Older children and adults who have not been immunized should also get vaccinations. Even for those who were vaccinated when they were young, most doctors recommend adults get a Tdap booster. This is especially important for anyone who will be spending time around newborn babies.
It’s important to note that unlike a number of other diseases, like measles which can be prevented with a vaccine, the pertussis vaccine (or getting whooping cough and recovering) doesn’t offer lifetime immunity from this disease. Still, the current vaccination regimen is the best defense we have against this potentially fatal disease.
The government lists the following five reasons you should get your child vaccinated:
- Getting yourself and your child immunized can save your child’s life
- Vaccines have been shown to be both very safe and effective
- Getting immunized not only protects yourself, but others you care about
- Having the entire family immunized can save a lot of time and money
- Getting immunized helps to protect future generations
It’s important to note children who don’t get the whooping cough vaccine can be denied access to school and child care facilities. It can also create a huge financial toll on the family if a child comes down with the disease through lost work-time, medical bills and time taken to care of the child. Whooping cough vaccinations are usually covered by insurance, and those with low incomes should qualify for the Vaccines for Children program, which provides no-cost vaccines to children from low-income families.
(Photo courtesy of Liza)