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10:38 AM

Newborns depend on rest of the family to protect them from whooping cough

New study stresses need for entire family to be immunized against pertussis

As a parent, your instinct is to protect your child at all costs.

However, some moms and dads may not realize the harm they are doing their newborn by not getting themselves or their older children vaccinated for whooping cough, or pertussis.

Because the immunity of a newborn isn’t fully developed, babies are at high risk for contracting potentially fatal illness and disease.

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics stresses the importance of the entire family getting vaccinated, at least those old enough to receive the immunization. The study says babies who contracted whooping cough were now more likely to get the infection from a sibling than a parent.

The study states that pertussis “is poorly controlled” and that the incidence of pertussis in this country is on the rise.

In contrast to previous studies, data now shows that infants are contracting whooping cough more often from their siblings than from their mothers. Doctors suggest that this may be because of vaccine effectiveness wearing off over time in these older children. They then contract pertussis more easily and the younger siblings (including infants) are more likely to be exposed.

Five vaccine doses are recommended by age 6, with a booster shot at age 11 or 12. Booster shots also are recommended for adults.

Infants are at greatest risk for disease and death from whooping cough, especially during the first 2 months of life before pertussis immunizations begin. That means that everyone in the family should be vaccinated when a newborn is being brought into the family.

While the parents, adolescents and caregivers who will have direct contact with the baby should all be up-to-date on their immunizations, the two most important vaccinations for adults to receive are influenza and combination booster for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (Tdap).

“Tdap is recommended for all pregnant women during each pregnancy to prevent the baby from getting pertussis if coughed on in the first few months of life before the baby has time to get immunized,” said Mary Suzanne Whitworth, M.D., medical director of Infectious Diseases at Cook Children’s. “The mother makes antibodies that go into the baby’s bloodstream during the pregnancy. Those last until the baby gets his or her 2-month shots.

“It’s very important for everyone in the family, including parents, siblings and grandparents to have the vaccine. Pertussis can be deadly if a child contracts the disease in the first 3-4 months of life.”

About the source

Mary Suzanne Whitworth, M.D. is the medical director of Infectious Diseases at Cook Children’s, which offers care for children and teens with diseases caused by bacteria, parasites, fungi or viruses. Our team provides a broad range of services including diagnosis, inpatient and outpatient consultations, immune deficiency evaluations and treatment of recurring infections.

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