Idaho is seeing an increase in whooping cough cases. Are you immunized?

Article adapted from The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, December 18, 2019

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is starting to see an increase in the number of whooping cough (also called pertussis) cases in Idaho, specifically in the southwest part of the state, near Malheur County, Oregon. So now is a good time to remind everyone to get immunized, especially if you will be meeting a newborn member of your family during your holiday gatherings.

I thought pertussis was dangerous for babies, but not so much for adults?

Adults get pertussis too! While many adults can shake it off, in some cases the cough can last for weeks or months, and it can land you in the hospital with pneumonia or other complications. Plus, babies can’t start getting vaccinated until they’re two months old, and they don’t have high levels of protection until they are 6 months old. If adults are vaccinated, there is less of a risk of passing the highly contagious disease to an infant.

Why is pertussis so dangerous for babies?

Babies are most at risk for getting very sick or dying. About half of infants younger than a year old who get the disease need to be hospitalized. About 1 in 4 infants hospitalized with pertussis get pneumonia, and about two-thirds will have slowed or stopped breathing. In a small number of cases, the disease can even be deadly. Infants are most often infected by family members or members of the same household. In fact, a person with pertussis will infect almost everyone in their household who isn’t immunized.

When do parents need to get their babies immunized?

For best protection, children need five doses of DTaP before they start school. The first dose is recommended when babies are 2 months old. They need two more doses after that, given when they are 4 months old and 6 months old, to build up high levels of protection. Booster shots are recommended to maintain that protection when they are 15-18 months old and again when they are 4-6 years old.

I’ve heard that protection from the vaccination wanes over time.

Vaccine protection for pertussis can decrease with time, but it’s still the best way to protect babies and prevent disease. One way to fight the waning of protection is by getting boosters. Preteens should get a booster vaccine, called Tdap, when they are 11 or 12. Adults need to be immunized as well, even if they were immunized as babies or children. And if you’re getting a routine tetanus booster, which is recommended every 10 years, go ahead and ask about the Tdap vaccine, which vaccinates against tetanus, diphtheria, AND pertussis, all at the same time.

Should pregnant women be immunized?

Expectant mothers should get one dose of Tdap during each pregnancy, preferably at some time during the 27th through 36th week of pregnancy. By doing this, the mother will develop protective antibodies against pertussis and pass them to the baby before birth. These antibodies will provide the baby some short-term protection against pertussis before the baby is old enough to get immunized. Tdap also will protect the mother before she delivers, making her less likely to get it and transmit it to her baby.

Call the Malheur County Health Department to schedule your immunization appointment at 541-889-7279.

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Pregnant Women Should Get Flu and Whooping Cough Shots

If pregnant women don’t get vaccinated, they may be endangering their babies as well as themselves.

Call the Malheur County Health Department at 541-889-7279 to schedule your flu and Tdap vaccines locally.

Millions of pregnant women in the United States are not getting two vital vaccines that protect not only their health, but their babies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said October 8th, 2019.

The vaccines — against flu and whooping cough — are strongly recommended during every pregnancy. But only about 35 percent of pregnant women in the country are receiving both vaccines, according to a new CDC report, and just over half receive one.

The consequences of missing vaccines for flu and whooping cough, also called pertussis, can be dire.

“Influenza and pertussis, or whooping cough, are serious infections that can be deadly for babies, especially for those who are too young to be vaccinated directly,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC in a briefing. “We are stressing the importance of two safe and effective vaccines for pregnant women and the risks to both women and their babies when these vaccines are not given during pregnancy.”

Whooping cough can be fatal, especially for babies, who cannot get their first vaccine against it until they are two months old. The CDC report said that about 70 percent of people who died from whooping cough in recent years were infants younger than two months.

“When infants get whooping cough they are usually very sick and have difficulty breathing, eating, drinking or sleeping,” Dr. Schuchat said. “Parents may see their baby gasping for air and even turning blue from lack of oxygen.”

When a woman receives the whooping cough vaccine during pregnancy, antibodies are transmitted to the fetus. Those antibodies protect babies when they are born until they can build up their own immunity from a series of five immunizations against the disease. The report said that if women receive the vaccination early in the third trimester of pregnancy, it gives their newborns optimal protection and will prevent nearly 80 percent of whooping cough cases in babies under two months old.

Flu can be particularly risky for pregnant women and can cause complications like premature birth. The report found that pregnant women account for about a quarter to a third of women of reproductive age who are hospitalized for influenza — even though only about 9 percent of women in that age group are pregnant in any given year.

Babies younger than six months — the age at which they can receive their first flu vaccine — are hospitalized from flu much more often than older children and are at greater risk of dying from it. Dr. Schuchat said infants with flu can develop problems like pneumonia, dehydration and swelling of the brain.

“Maternal immunization rates have been steadfastly stuck at about 50 percent,” said Dr. Denise Jamieson, chairwoman of the department of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the new report. “We really haven’t moved the needle at all.”

The new report analyzed data on hospitalization and death from flu and whooping cough between 2010 and 2018. The researchers also conducted an online survey this past spring of about 2,600 women who reported being pregnant any time since August 2018. It asked whether the women’s health care providers recommended the vaccines, either by offering to provide them or referring the patients to someone who could, and whether the women agreed to get vaccinated.

About three-quarters of the women surveyed said that during pregnancy their providers recommended the flu vaccine and the Tdap vaccine, which protects against whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria. But even among those women, about a third did not get vaccinated, the report said.

The most common reason the women gave for not getting the flu vaccine was a belief it was not effective. The reason they gave most often for not getting the Tdap vaccine was not knowing it is necessary during each pregnancy. For both vaccines, the second most common reason women refused it was concern about whether it was safe for their babies, the report said.

Dr. Jamieson, a former CDC official who now practices obstetrics and gynecology at Grady Memorial Hospital, said that pregnant patients in her practice who declined to get the flu vaccine often said, “they heard bad things about the vaccine, misconceptions that it makes you sick or wasn’t safe,” she said. Some didn’t think they were at risk for flu she said.

Dr. Jamieson said women were generally more likely to accept the Tdap vaccine, possibly because it is newer so there are fewer misconceptions about it. The flu vaccine has been recommended in pregnancy since 1960, Dr. Jamieson said, but the Tdap has only been recommended for pregnant women since 2012.

Vaccines for flu and whooping cough are the only two immunizations recommended for all pregnant women, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which posts a list of vaccines that are considered unsafe in pregnancy and others that can be given under certain circumstances.

Article adapted from the New York Times by Pam Belluck.