Health Team

Moms urged to get whooping cough vaccine

Posted January 26, 2009 4:52 p.m. EST
Updated January 26, 2009 9:57 p.m. EST

Ask any new mother: keeping her baby safe and healthy is her top priority. However, most mothers don't realize they need to be protecting their babies from themselves.

Niwa Kapumbu says she never dreamed she could be a danger to her newborn.

“You don't want to give anything to your baby. You want him to be safe,” Kapumbu said.

Like most new mothers, she had no idea she should be vaccinated for whooping cough. But according to a new Northwestern University study, all moms should receive the whooping cough vaccine (DTaP) before their babies come home from the hospital.

The illness, characterized by severe coughing, can be deadly for babies, who aren't able to be vaccinated until at least two months old.

“It is a very serious infection, especially the younger an infant is. They have prolonged coughing. They have gasping, (and) cyanotic turning-blue episodes,” said Dr. Kenneth Gottesman, a pediatrician at Saint Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is on the rise in the United States. Its incidence is up 10 percent since 1980.

About half of the babies who get whooping cough catch it from a parent. According to researchers at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, only about 2 percent of parents with babies in intensive care got the shot. Many were vaccinated as children, but don't realize DTaP is not effective after six to eight years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends booster shots for all adults and teens.  Before the DTaP vaccine, whooping cough killed up to 10,000 Americans a year. It is making a comeback, doctors say, as more parents choose not to vaccinate their children.

Kapumbu says she will do whatever it takes to keep her son safe.

“I’ll ask the doctor about the vaccine,” she said.

Cases of whooping cough in North Carolina more than doubled from 2005 to 2007. Last year, a whooping cough outbreak in the western part of the state affected more than 20 people, most of them children.