Story by: Norton Healthcare; Reviewed by Crystal D. Narcisse, M.D. on November 6, 2023
Grandparents, other family members and caregivers need to make sure they’re up to date on the whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine at least two weeks before meeting a newborn to protect against the potentially deadly disease.
During flu season, everyone also needs to get their flu shot at least two weeks before meeting the new baby.
Adults need a whooping cough or pertussis vaccine (included in the Tdap vaccine) booster every 10 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pregnant women can pass protection from whooping cough to the baby before birth by getting the Tdap shortly after week 27 of their pregnancy — and no later than week 36.
Infants can’t get their own DTaP vaccine, which also covers whooping cough, until they are 2 months old, so it’s important for everyone to form a protective cocoon around the newborn by making sure they’re up to date on their shots.
“Whooping cough is very contagious and can be deadly for babies,” said Crystal D. Narcisse, M.D., internal medicine/pediatrics physician with Norton Community Medical Associates. “It’s typically spread through coughing or sneezing, and adults can spread the disease without even knowing they have it.”
A baby with whooping cough may not cough, but instead may gasp for air or stop breathing.
Any of these people who may be around the newborn should get updated for Tdap:
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Both the DTaP and Tdap vaccines help protect against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. The difference is in their formulation. The DTaP vaccine is for children under age 7, while Tdap is for older children and adults.
Tetanus, also called lockjaw, is caused by a bacteria that triggers muscle contractions. The infection often causes the neck and jaw muscles to lock, causing difficulty swallowing and opening the mouth.
Diphtheria is another bacterial infection that can lead to difficulty breathing and upset the heart rhythm, and can be deadly.
Pertussis may begin like a common cold, but unlike a cold, the coughing can last for weeks or months. Symptoms usually develop within five to 10 days of contact with the bacteria. After a week or two of symptoms, infected people may develop uncontrolled coughing fits that cause them to make a “whoop” sound once they’re finally able to get a breath. The severe cough can lead to vomiting and exhaustion.
The Tdap vaccine for whooping cough and other diseases is available from your primary care provider. You also can visit your nearest Norton Prompt Care clinic to determine if you are up to date on your vaccination schedule.
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While babies often don’t cough with a whooping cough infection and often appear to have a common cold, pertussis can cause them to struggle to breathe — and they can turn blue because of the lack of oxygen. This loss of oxygen is what can lead to death.
Teens and adults tend to have a milder pertussis infection, especially if they’ve had the Tdap vaccination. Those with a milder infection often don’t have the characteristic “whoop” at the end of a coughing fit.
Teens and adults can have severe whooping cough cases, especially those who haven’t been vaccinated. The severe cough can keep them up at night.
The whooping cough vaccine is effective, but doesn’t always prevent illness entirely. Those who are vaccinated, but still get sick usually aren’t as ill as those who aren’t vaccinated.
Those who have the pertussis vaccination but still get whooping cough usually don’t have the cough as long, and coughing fits are less common. Difficulty breathing and experiencing cyanosis (turning bluish because of low blood oxygen) are less common in children who’ve had the whooping cough vaccine.
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