Pertussis, also called “Whooping Cough” is a bacterial infection that you or your baby can catch when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Infected droplets can travel through the air, and if you inhale the droplets you can become infected with pertussis. Whooping cough begins like a cold, with a mild fever and runny nose. Most adults do not have severe symptoms, but they can pass pertussis on to a newborn very easily without realizing it.
Whooping cough is especially dangerous for a newborn because their immune system is not fully mature and they cannot fight this infection. Babies cannot get the vaccine for pertussis until they are two months old. Even after they start the vaccinations, they are not fully protected by the vaccines until they are a year old and have had three vaccinations for pertussis. Whooping cough in a newborn is a very serious illness, and it often requires that the baby be admitted to the hospital for breathing problems or pneumonia. Some babies who get whooping cough do not cough at all – they just stop breathing. Newborns can die from whooping cough.
The entire family can help protect your newborn from whooping cough. All teenagers and adults who are around your baby should get a pertussis booster, called Tdap. The Tdap shot is a tetanus vaccine that includes pertussis. If you are pregnant, the best time to get the Tdap vaccine is between 27-36 weeks of pregnancy. Your body will have time to make antibodies against pertussis. These antibodies are passed through the placenta to protect your baby. You can protect your baby with antibodies long before your baby is old enough to get the pertussis vaccine. After the baby is born, the antibodies are passed through your breast milk.
For more information: http://www.cdc.gov/features/pertussis
-Kirstin Johnson, Certified Nurse Midwife