A Serious Disease with a Simple Solution
Whooping cough, named for the gasping sound that occurs between severe coughing fits, can be much more than a temporary setback. In fact, certain complications caused by the disease can be life threatening. But as Dr. Kevin Hayes, Pediatrician at ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Appleton, reminds us, receiving the whooping cough vaccine – particularly among younger patients and pregnant women – could be all it takes to avoid long-term health issues.
Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious, person-to-person bacterial respiratory disease. The uncontrollable coughing that can accompany the infection can make it difficult to breathe as well as eat and drink.
“Anyone can contract whooping cough – adults and children alike,” said Dr. Hayes. “Vaccinations are recommended from infancy, starting with the DTaP vaccine – diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis – for babies starting at two months old.”
At highest risk for complications are infants and young children who haven’t yet received the vaccination, Dr. Hayes said. Pertussis in babies and young children can cause more serious and life-threatening problems such as difficulty breathing, noticeable pauses or stopped breathing, seizures, pneumonia or brain damage.
While older children and adults usually have milder symptoms, occasionally the coughing becomes so violent it can cause rib fractures, fainting, or loss of bladder control, Dr. Hayes said.
Everyone, including adults who have already had whooping cough or received the DTaP vaccine as a child, should talk to their provider about receiving the Tdap, which is for older children and adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy also receive the vaccine.
Importance of Wellness Visits
“Wellness checks help care teams monitor the health and development of infants and toddlers,” said Dr. Hayes. “These visits are a great opportunity to discuss any concerns parents might have about their child, such as eating/feeding issues, sleep schedules, immunizations, growth and overall development. It also gives us an opportunity to potentially identify concerns that may not have been obvious to caregivers.”
Dr. Hayes cited diseases such as measles, pertussis (whooping cough), polio and other diseases that can cause serious long-term health issues and also death.
“In the first two years of a child’s life, they get several vaccinations,” he said. “The schedule ThedaCare follows has been studied and recommended by the CDC and other professional health organizations. This schedule is the most effective in terms of immune response and protection against the common viruses and bacteria that can be fatal to infants and young children, and/or affect their growth and development in the long term.”
Dr. Hayes recommend patients ask their providers about the vaccination schedule for children, and about getting the pertussis vaccination themselves.
“Remember, getting the vaccine not only protects you, it also helps protect those around you who may be more vulnerable to developing complications,” Dr. Hayes said. “In a year when we’re already dealing with the very serious threat of COVID-19, reducing the exposure and spread of other diseases will help protect everyone. Chat with your provider and develop a plan for preventing pertussis.”