April 16th-23rd, 2016 is National Infant Immunization Week, the CDC’s national celebration of the safe, healthy start vaccines give babies. But you don’t need to have a baby (or even know a baby!) to do your part. When you are fully vaccinated, you help protect Maine’s little ones from dangerous, life-threatening diseases. And as one Maine mother’s story shows us, that’s a big deal.
Even when parents carefully follow the CDC’s recommended vaccine schedule, they need help from their family, friends and neighbors to keep their children healthy. Infants can’t get all the vaccines they need immediately after birth. As their bodies grow, they rely on the immunity of the children and adults around them to keep infections away. When everyone who can get vaccinated is vaccinated, dangerous diseases can’t spread easily in our community. It’s powerful protection, and it’s called herd immunity. Like buffalo circling around their young when wolves are on the prowl, high herd immunity prevents outbreaks and keeps diseases like pertussis, influenza, measles and more away from small children.
When there are holes in that herd immunity, our most vulnerable community members can get hurt. Babies haven’t yet completed all the recommended doses of the critical DTaP vaccine. This means they are not fully vaccinated against pertussis, or whooping cough—a serious illness making a real recurrence in Maine. Pertussis is highly contagious, and because its early symptoms can mimic a cold, infected people spread it without knowing. Most infants acquire pertussis from a well meaning adult who is unaware that they have it. People like Luanne and her husband, first-time parents of an infant son living in southern Maine.
By Dr. Erin Dawson-Chalat
It’s National Immunization Awareness Month! This week’s theme is “Protect yourself and pass protection on to your baby.” Although there are some vaccines that women shouldn’t get while they are pregnant, several vaccines are safe in pregnancy and are even recommended. Diseases like influenza and whooping cough can be very serious for infants, and getting the flu while you’re pregnant can lead to complications for you. Getting vaccinated against flu and whooping cough is one of the best ways to protect mom and baby. Of course, it’s also important to be sure you are up-to-date on other vaccines before becoming pregnant. To learn more about vaccines that you may need before, during, and after pregnancy, take a look at this chart. Because whooping cough continues to cause outbreaks in Maine and nationally, our guest blogger, Dr. Erin Dawson-Chalat is here to help us spread the word about preventing additional cases in newborns.
A newborn baby is exciting, and friends and family can’t wait to welcome the newest addition. It is such a special time for everyone, but it is important to remember that all those visitors can bring harmful germs with them. To keep your baby healthy, you should take every opportunity to protect them from diseases that can spread easily and quickly. That includes making sure that everyone who touches the baby washes their hands first and that those who are sick wait to visit until they are well. One of the most dangerous illnesses that a baby can get is whooping cough, or pertussis, which is easily spread from children and adults to infants through coughing and sneezing. Continue reading
For thousands of years, breast milk has provided a complete source of nutrition and some immunity for babies to fight off certain kinds of infections and allergies. Of course, let’s not overlook breastfeeding’s bonding benefits! But as powerful as it is, breast milk can’t protect babies from everything, including dangerous diseases like measles and whooping cough. Luckily, today’s parents have a second line of defense: safe, effective, CDC-recommended vaccines. Through on-time immunizations, parents can protect to their babies from diseases, regardless of whether their babies are breastfed or not.
At Vax Maine Kids, we often say that every child who can get immunized should get immunized, and we feel the same way about breastfeeding. Just like on-time vaccinations, breastfeeding is a wonderful way to give babies a strong, healthy start on life. Both vaccines and breast milk are powerful immunity boosters, and they protect babies best when they work together. Breastfeeding alone just isn’t enough.
According to a new study, one in five ongoing childhood coughs reported in the United Kingdom are actually pertussis, an infectious disease commonly known as whooping cough. That’s right—20% of nagging childhood coughs are actually a serious respiratory disease that spreads very easily, especially among children! Why are whooping cough infection rates in the U.K. so high? And why should Maine parents care about a study from so far away?
What is whooping cough?
Whooping cough is an infectious respiratory disease that can cause cracked ribs and brain damage from severe, ongoing coughing spells. It takes weeks to recover from whooping cough and sadly, not everyone does. Young children are most at risk for whooping cough—over half of all infants younger than a year old with whooping cough will need to be hospitalized, one in five infected will get pneumonia, and some will die. Whooping cough still kills over 300,000 children and adults worldwide and about 10 – 20 children in the United States every single year.
Parents today are very lucky to have the whooping cough vaccine to help keep their children safe from this disease. The vaccine (given as part of the DTaP shot) is a safe, effective way to protect children from whooping cough as early as six months old. But the whooping cough vaccine begins to lose strength after about ten years. Older children need a booster shot (given as part of the Tdap shot) to maintain their immunity. Adults over age 19 also need a whooping cough booster shot and pregnant women are strongly advised to get the booster between 27 and 36 weeks of each pregnancy.
Why is whooping cough becoming so common in the U.K.?
- Booster shots for whooping cough are not as common in the U.K. as in the U.S. In the U.S., the booster shot is recommended by the CDC and administered by doctors at wellness checks. The U.K. has no public health provisions for the booster shot, and this is one of the reasons health officials believe they are seeing so many more cases of whooping cough among children there.
- Whooping cough spreads very easily. Whooping cough first looks like a common cold. Parents of children with early symptoms of whooping cough might not think their children are sick enough to stay home from school or other public events. And because whooping cough spreads through the air, even casual contact with someone who is sick can make you sick, too. Before the coughing fits even begin, each person with whooping cough infects about twelve other people. Yikes!
- The anti-vaccine movement in the U.K. is contributing to reduced vaccination rates. While most parents in the U.K. do vaccinate their children, it doesn’t take many parents opting out to undermine the power of herd immunity. When almost everyone is immunized, it is much more difficult for dangerous diseases to take hold in communities. Herd immunity helps protect vulnerable populations who can’t be vaccinated: newborns, infants, sick adults, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. Every time someone decides not to get vaccinated, they reduce the protection these vulnerable children and adults need.
Why should Maine parents pay attention to a study from the U.K.?
A pertussis outbreak in England might seem too far away to worry about, but in today’s world, “too far away” is really “just a plane ride away.” As such, it is becoming increasingly common for travelers to be exposed to and return home with diseases not often seen in the U.S.
Whooping cough infection rates are also rising in the U.S. for many of the same reasons as in the U.K. In 2012, the CDC announced a 50-year high in whooping cough cases nationwide, and Maine was no exception. In fact, Maine was one of the top ten states for whooping cough infections that year!
Whooping cough rates in Maine improved in 2013, but Maine parents still need to be careful about keeping their family’s vaccinations up-to-date. There have been 181 cases of pertussis in Maine so far this year and almost every case was in an infected baby, child, or teen. This May, the Maine CDC issued a new warning to parents about whooping cough, reminding them to vaccinate their children before sending them to summer camp or back to school.
The U.K. study is a great reminder for all of us that cases of whooping cough can be overlooked by doctors, that booster shots are very important for children over the age of 11 and for adults, and that vaccines work best when everyone who can get vaccinated is vaccinated.
Have you or has anyone you know had whooping cough? How quickly was the diagnosis and how long did it take to recover?