Recently there has been a lot of news about the Pertussis (Whooping Cough) outbreak; there has been a concerted effort to vaccinate all children against this potentially life-threatening disease. Pertussis causes severe coughing episodes in children and infants; infants under 6 months of age are at highest risk because they are not fully vaccinated and the coughing spells can severe enough to cause cyanosis (lack of oxygen in the blood). The infants can turn blue and essentially stop breathing. Although Pertussis has not reached epidemic levels in California, government officials have felt the need to encourage vaccinating new mothers, fathers, and close caretakers of newborns. The California Department of Public Health had started shipping free Pertussis vaccines to all birthing hospitals in the state, in addition to county health departments.
The best way to stop pertussis to to vaccinate your children. The Pertussis vaccine is incorporated in different vaccines: (DTaP, Pediarix, and Pentacel). These vaccines are typically administered at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and a booster dose at 4-5 years of age. The maximum immunity occurs after the first 3 doses. Children at 11 years of age should receive another booster Tdap. Adults should also receive a booster if they have not had one within 10 years.
Although the vaccine rates for Pertussis in infants are very good in California with 98% of children receive at least 3 doses by 19-35 months, adults immunization is very low at about 6%. This is the group that is most likely carrying the bacteria and spreading the infection to infants and children.
A pertussis infection undergoes 3 stages: The first stage (cattarhal) is similar to the common cold with runny nose, sneezing, mild cough and a low grade fever. This lasts about 1-2 weeks. The cough becomes gradually worse which is the Paroxysmal stage. This is when the bursts of cough episodes occur with a whooping sound caused by the slow inspiration. During the coughing spell the child turns blue. This stage lasts about 6 weeks. The third stage is the convalescent stage where the cough slowly improves over the next 2-3 weeks.
New parents and any caretakers of children should be vaccinated as soon as possible to prevent the spread of this serious illness. If you suspect your child of contracting Pertussis, it is important to be treated as early as possible. Antibiotic treatment usually consists of an erythromycin antibiotic or similar medication. Treating with antibiotics later in the course of illness is usually not effective in decreasing the coughing spells. So the key is prevention with immunization.