Whooping cough has made a comeback in recent years, with numerous outbreaks reported across the United States, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Babies are especially vulnerable because there is no vaccination for them.
But there is a way to protect them. The Tdap vaccine given during pregnancy is 78 percent effective in preventing whooping cough, also called pertussis, in infants, a new study by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals. However, only 49 percent of pregnant women who gave birth between fall 2015 and spring 2016 received the Tdap vaccine, which protects against whooping cough.
Whooping cough is caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. The bacteria attaches to the cells lining the lungs and secretes toxins, causing inflammation and a disruption to normal lung function. The virus is spread when an infected individual coughs or sneezes, and it is highly contagious.
Researchers estimate that giving pregnant women the Tdap booster vaccine prevented about 78 cases of whooping cough in their babies for every 100 mothers vaccinated. When researchers looked only at severe cases requiring hospitalization, the vaccine effectiveness rate increased to 90 percent.
“The study highlights how babies can benefit when their mothers get the vaccine,” said Dr. Samantha Sinclair of Novant Health WomanCare in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “Babies born to mothers who received the Tdap vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks gestation have high concentration of antibodies against the pertussis bacteria in their blood.”
Pregnant women should receive the Tdap booster vaccine during their third trimester of pregnancy, according to CDC recommendations, even if they have received the vaccine before. Vaccinating the mother can provide critical short-term protection to babies when they are most at risk for life-threatening illnesses.
“By immunizing the mother, we can provide some passive antibodies to the baby to help fight any infection,” said Dr. Haley Landwehr of Novant Health WomanCare. “Ensuring close family members and anyone who will be around the infant is vaccinated helps prevent the infant from being exposed to the disease.”
Whooping cough gets its nickname from the whooping sound patients make when they gasp for air after an intense coughing fit. It can cause uncontrollable, violent coughing that can make it difficult to breathe. For infants, the illness is typically more severe.
“Half of babies less than a year old who catch pertussis may require hospitalization for supportive respiratory care,” Sinclair said. “Although covering your mouth while coughing and sneezing and practicing good hand hygiene can help prevent whooping cough, the best method of prevention is the vaccine.”
In 2015, the CDC reported 20,762 cases of pertussis in the United States.
“When you look at the number of deaths related to pertussis, the majority are infants less than three months of age,” Landwehr said. “This is because infants are incredibly vulnerable to illnesses until they begin their own immunization series around two months of age and make his or her own antibodies.”
“The vaccine is safe for pregnant women and it proves to be the best defense we have when it comes to protecting infants from critical illnesses,” Sinclair added.