Dr. Favor Discusses Recent Outbreak of Whooping Cough in Greater Birmingham

Blakely looks very pleased to meet her teacher Mrs. Debbie Ugolini. Blakely’s mom, a wonderful member of our Sparks & Favor team, generously shared this adorable pic!

Especially for new and expectant parents

August always a busy time for families rushing to purchase school supplies, arrange bus and carpool schedules, and perhaps slip in one more family outing before settling into school-year routines!  Not coincidentally, August is also National Immunization Awareness Month—a reminder that updating Alabama blue immunization forms is one of the items on most back-to-school checklists.

This week, a press release from the Alabama Department of Public Health shows us again how important immunizations are to our families’ health. From its announcement:

“The Alabama Department of Public Health’s (ADPH) Immunization Division is currently investigating a pertussis outbreak in Shelby and Jefferson counties. Currently, ADPH has identified 9 children with positive pertussis laboratory results and 22 people with pertussis-like illness (PLI) linked to people who tested positive.”

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is especially dangerous for babies and young children and can even cause death, especially in infants under 1 year. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about half of infants under 1 year who get whooping cough will need to be hospitalized.

Whooping cough is caused by a type of bacteria. Its early symptoms, lasting a week or two, are much like a cold with perhaps a mild fever and a little coughing.  After the early stage, spells of coughing become severe, sometimes leading to vomiting and exhaustion.  A child may make a “whooping” sound as it gasps to breathe between coughing episodes. The severe cough may last 6 weeks or more. Infants can have episodes of apnea (slowed or stopped breathing).

The most important weapon against whooping cough is the pertussis vaccine (Tdap or DTap).  But infants cannot receive the vaccine until they are 2 months old and do not have maximum protection until after their third shot at about 6 months. During these early months, you can protect your baby from whooping cough by maintaining your own immunity and by avoiding contact with people who may not have been vaccinated.

Because this illness carries so much risk for newborns, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in 2012 that ALL pregnant women receive the Tdap vaccine with EACH PREGNANCY, regardless of their history of receiving the Tdap vaccine before. Mothers should receive the Tdap shot late in pregnancy (between 27 and 36 weeks) to maximize the immunity passed to the newborn. A mother who did not receive the shot during pregnancy should be vaccinated immediately after her baby is born, even if she is breastfeeding. At Sparks & Favor, we support the CDC guideline and will recommend the vaccine to you at one of your prenatal visits.

What else can you do to protect your baby? Studies show that 75% or more of newborns with whooping cough caught it from a family or household member. Make sure that siblings, grandparents, caregivers and anyone else who comes into contact with your baby has an up-to-date Tdap vaccination. Since your baby cannot receive its own vaccination until it is 2 months old, vaccinating family and caregivers surrounds the baby with a “cocoon” of protection. Caregivers and family members should consult their primary physician or healthcare provider to determine whether their immunizations are up-to-date. If a Tdap vaccination is needed, it is important to get the booster vaccine at least two weeks before you will be in contact with an infant under the age of 1 year, to allow time for immunity to develop. Your pediatrician will guide you about the best immunization schedule for your older children.

We want to wish Blakely, Mrs. Ugolini, and everyone returning to the classroom this week a safe, heathy, and successful school year!