Guest blogger Daniel P. McGee, MD, is a Spectrum Health Medical Group Physician who practices as a pediatric hospitalist at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital.
Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, has been on the rise for the last few years. Last year, we had almost 1,600 cases in Michigan alone. This year, it’s on the rise again—in fact, it’s come to the point that I no longer find it unusual to see a case of whooping cough in the hospital. Sometimes we'll have two kids hospitalized with it at the same time.
So what can parents do to prevent it, especially in infants who are unprotected until they've completed their first three shots in a series—which happen at two, four and six months? It helps to understand how children are contracting pertusiss. When a source of pertussis in an infant can be identified:
- 75 percent of the time it's an immediate family member (mom, dad, sibling or grandparent)
- 25 percent of the time it's linked directly back to grandma or grandpa
Cocooning Can Help Protect a Baby
On September 26, 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a formal recommendation for grandparents who care for infants to get immunized. This is part of a strategy know as “cocooning” which involves immunizing all who come in contact with a baby—such as parents, siblings, grandparents and other caretakers—in order to create a protective barrier around a baby who is not fully immunized. I highly recommend adopting this strategy as well.
Vaccines prevent millions of children and adults around the world from contracting serious diseases and illnesses every year. Yet, unfortunately, in recent years there has been a lot of misinformation out there regarding immunizations and health risks. Because of this, some of the adults in your family and caregiver circle may object to being immunized. In this case, what can you do?
Why Adults Should Be Vaccinated
I suggest discussing the facts in a straightforward manner, asking them to review reputable information about pertussis (such as on the American Academy of Pediatrics or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and urging them not to do it for themselves, but for the baby. Here are five key points to emphasize:
- Pertusiss is highly contagious.
- Even if a baby is immunized, he or she is not fully protected until six months.
- 75 percent of the time, it is an adult who brings the disease home to the baby.
- If an adult gets whopping cough, it is much less severe—I would consider it more of an annoyance. But babies are much more severely affected and it can be life threatening.
- We now know that immunizations don't last forever, which is why adults need to be re-immunized.
One final thought: Through my work at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, I see firsthand what happens to babies who contract pertusiss, and I can tell you it is very difficult. In fact, pertussis used to be called the “100-day cough”—that probably gives you a sense of what’s involved. An infant or child who has it coughs repeatedly in a violent and rapid manner until they are out of air, then inhales and makes a loud "whooping" sound that gives the disease its nickname—then they start coughing again and this continues for weeks. Although the cough usually becomes less severe over those 100 days, it can be extremely challenging. Children have stayed at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital for two weeks or longer after contracting pertussis.
- Dr. McGee