Raleigh, N.C. — Though doctors have long thought that whooping cough could be conquered by vaccines, hundreds of cases of the potentially life-threatening disease were reported in North Carolina this year.
Latia Austin's 6-week-old son, Jaden, has whooping cough.
She thought originally thought it was just a cold until she heard the distinctive "whoop" associated with the disease.
"Hence its name, (people with) whooping cough cough so much that they're having trouble getting air back into their lungs," said Wake County Medical Director Peter J. Morris.
The sucking-in of air is what makes the whooping sound, but it's also an indicator of what makes the disease so dangerous. Difficulty getting air into the lungs "places (sufferers) at risk of respiratory failure and death," Morris said.
Before arriving at WakeMed, the disease was causing Jaden Austin to lose weight and lower the level of oxygen in his blood. After antibiotics and oxygen therapy, the baby has gained weight, is sleeping well and is ready to head home.
Morris said vaccinations are still the best way to prevent the spread of pertussis – the medical term for whooping cough.
Babies are often most vulnerable because they haven't finished their prescribed course of vaccines.
The public health strategy is to give adults, especially pregnant women who can pass the virus on to their newborn infants, regular booster shots of the T-DAP pertussis vaccine.
"The immunity may not last as long as we thought, so re-vaccinating at the 2- to 3-year mark is a good thing to do," Morris said.
Austin said she never get a booster shot during her pregnancy because her obstetrician didn't offer it, but now she's making sure everyone in her household gets the vaccine.