camping out with babyNews of a whooping cough death in the Seattle area rang out yesterday. By afternoon, many of my patients in clinic had heard the news. Although the epidemic levels of whooping cough have gradually faded since a peak of cases here in May, the risk is still very real.

A newborn baby died from whooping cough on December 13th here in Washington State.

Newborn babies are at particularly elevated risk for serious complications from pertussis (whooping cough) infections. Unlike older children and adults who often have cough & coughing fits with vomiting, babies can have severe respiratory distress, pauses in breathing, or even stop breathing. Rarely it can be deadly.

Infants are most likely to catch whooping cough from a parent. We have to cocoon newborns everywhere: surround them with people who are vaccinated and less likely to spread whooping cough infection.

This tragic death serves up a reminder for we pediatricians, family docs, and clinicians everywhere to maintain our efforts and amp up our passion to keep babies surrounded by immunized family and friends. We can’t let up.

Are You Up To Date On Your Whooping Cough Shots?

More than anything, we need to ensure family members (mothers, fathers, grandparents, and siblings) all are up-to-date on their whooping cough shot. The shot is imperfect (meaning not everyone who gets the shot is always immune — most estimates find that 80% of us who get the shot are protected) and we know some of our immunity to whooping cough can fade year after year. So the more people immunized the less likely we are to have whooping cough in our community.

  • Infants (6 week+) and young children need DTaP shots. Babies get these at 2, 4, 6, and 15 months of age. They are considered “protected” from whooping cough only after that 4th dose at 15 months.
  • Age 11 and up: all children, teens, adults need a Tdap shot. Those grandparents needs one, too (even if over 65 years of age).
  • Pregnant women need a Tdap shot ideally between week 27 and 36 of pregnancy. Ideally we want moms to get their shot at least 2 weeks before the baby is born to ensure they don’t transmit whooping cough to their newborn.
  • OF NOTE: If you’re a pregnant women (or know one) it’s my recommendation that even if you’ve had your Tdap shot before, ask your OB about potentially repeating it during this pregnancy. New preliminary recommendations suggest we may provide improved protection for newborns if women get a Tdap booster dose with every pregnancy.

Best Way To Protect Your Newborn From Whooping Cough

  • Always ask any person who holds your baby to wash their hands prior to holding them.
  • Make sure everyone in your home is immunized–get all Dads those Tdap shots prior to delivery!
  • Ask friends and family to get a Tdap shot at least 2 weeks before they visit your baby. Consider sending out an email. (here’s an example you can copy & paste).  Tdap protects the person getting the shot and all those high-risk newborns.
  • Don’t allow any sick friends and family into the house. If you’re visiting a newborn this holiday, GO GET YOUR SHOT today. Many pharmacies have Tdap shots and often you don’t need an appointment.
  • Although I really do think you need to leave your home (for sanity!!) with your newborn, be extra choosy with where you go with your baby under 2 months of age. Babies are at highest risk for death from pertussis in the first 2 months of life.
  • And my unfortunate, unwelcomed piece of advice:

Don’t pass the newborn baby around at holiday parties this year. Minimize exposures as best you can.