Pertussis or Whooping cough has become an epidemic in recent years and it’s estimated that 1 out of 200 babies that contract the disease will die. Adults with whooping cough show signs of recovery but the disease proves fatal in infants. Pertussis is one of the important causes of infant death worldwide and continues to be a public health concern even in developed countries.
The immunization schedule requires doses of pertussis vaccination at two, four and six months of age. It takes at least two or more often three doses for a child to be immunized which makes them vulnerable for the first four months of life.
As a part of the “cocooning” method suggested by doctors, parents and close family members and carer givers are asked to be vaccinated to avoid passing on the fatal disease to babies. But according to recent studies and practices, they believe pregnant women in their third trimester can be immunized to better protect their babies and themselves.
Chair of the Australian Medical Association of general practice, Dr Brian Morton says that seeing a baby with whooping cough is a horrific experience. “The idea is that if you protect the mother you are also protecting the baby, not only with antibodies but also from the mother contracting whooping cough and passing it on.” A similar approach with the flu vaccine had proved good results. “There’s really good evidence that giving the flu vaccine during pregnancy protects not only the baby but also the mother in the first three months of life,” says Dr Morton.
Immunization against pertussis is done with a combined vaccine that also takes in diphteria, polio and tetanus, so these trials on pregnant women are not practiced to test safety but to examine protective effects on the mother and whether it decreases the risk on the newborn.
Pertussis is highly contagious as the infectious virus can spread through droplets in the air. The incubation period is only 7-10 days with a range of 4-21 days. Having similar symptoms to that of a common cold, whooping cough can go unnoticed at first and prove to be most dangerous to children under the age of 1. Complications include lack of oxygen to the brain (stops the baby from breathing) which can in turn cause brain damage and even death.
Reports claim that in the past two years more than 80,000 British women have received vaccination against pertussis in their third trimester, and the results are encouraging. These tests suggest the effectiveness for a baby in the first three months of life is about 93 per cent.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that worldwide, there are about 16 million cases of whooping cough and about 195,000 deaths per year. Which, of course, means that parents or care givers shouldn’t consider providing their infants with the whooping cough booster as an option.