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Q&A on whooping cough: What steps are needed to protect newborns' health?

September 22, 2010 | 10:10 am

WhoopingcoughA number of readers have contacted The Times wanting to know more about the whooping cough outbreak and who has been affected by the severe bacterial disease. The epidemic, now the worst in the state for pertussis in 55 years, has killed nine people, all infants younger than 3 months of age.

As The Times continues to cover the outbreak, readers are encouraged to send their questions to ron.lin@latimes.com.

Question: My daughter had a documented case of whooping cough at age 14 while we were living in Seattle. Now age 28, she is providing child care to her 8-month-old niece. The pediatrician said my adult daughter does not need to get a booster now because she had the whooping cough already. Is that correct? 

Answer: The pediatrician is incorrect in advising your daughter that she does not need a booster shot. Health officials have said that immunity to whooping cough can begin to fade as early as five years after inoculation or illness. That’s why they are urging adults to get immunized with the Tdap booster shot, which protects against whooping cough, also known as pertussis.

Here’s what the California Department of Public Health recommends:

"CDPH recommends that birth hospitals and other immunizers provide Tdap to all close contacts of infants without documentation of Tdap vaccination, especially parents and childcare providers. Contacts should be immunized before mother and baby are discharged after birth." [Read the full recommendations

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been no reported severe reactions to the Tdap vaccine among adolescents. Among adults, there were two adults who had nervous system problems after getting the vaccine, but they may or may not have been caused by the vaccine, and disappeared on their own and did not cause any permanent harm. 

CDC officials advise that "a person who gets these diseases is much more likely to have severe complications than a person who gets the Tdap vaccine."

Question: When there is a newborn in the house, who should be getting the vaccine prior to the baby's birth?

Answer: Anyone who will have contact with the newborn should receive up-to-date vaccinations for whooping cough, including mothers, fathers, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and baby-sitters, according to health officials. According to California health officials, it is preferable for women to be vaccinated before pregnancy, but they can still get the shot during or after pregnancy. [Read more about the guidelines]

Question: Does it matter how close to the due date other members of the household receive the vaccine?

Answer: Household contacts who are adults and adolescents should receive the Tdap vaccination before mother and baby are discharged from the hospital after birth, according to California health officials. State officials say vaccination should occur at least two weeks before contact with newborns. 

Question: Who is most likely to infect an infant? 

Answer: The mother is often the person who infects the newborn baby with whooping cough.

-- Rong-Gong Lin II


Have vaccinated people still gotten sick?

How many of the eight infants who died were immunized for whooping cough?

Are illegal immigrants fueling the outbreak? State officials say no