The Cough That Kills: How Pregnant Women In Third Trimester Can Protect Babies Against Whooping Cough

Last year, 18 people died from pertussis — more commonly known as whooping cough. Out of those 18 people, 15 were babies under the age of 12 months. Since infants cannot be vaccinated against the illness until they are at least eight weeks old, new recommendations have been suggested for pregnant mothers.

Health officials have now suggested that pregnant women get vaccinated against pertussis during the third trimester of their pregnancy, in an attempt to pass some of the immunization on to their unborn baby. Typically, babies do not receive their first pertussis vaccination until they are eight weeks old, but the highly contagious illness can be deadly for infants who are not vaccinated.

Children typically received 5 dosed of the vaccine, beginning at 2 months of age, and a booster shot when they are 11 or 12-years old. Adults should receive booster shots as well, particularly parents of infants who are too young to be vaccinated. While children who are vaccinated can still get whooping cough, it is not nearly as severe.

Emma Houghton found out the hard way that whooping cough in infants can be severe and fast, and that doctors may not recognize symptoms, since very small babies lack the “whoop” sound that characterizes pertussis.

Zachary Houghton was seven weeks old when he contracted what his parents believed to be the cold going around the family. He experienced a runny nose and minor cough. After several days, however, his cough became “more alarming,” and he eventually was choking on mucus while he coughed until he turned blue. According to Zachary’s mother, “One moment he appeared entirely well; the next, he was seized by a fit of violent choking, going blue from lack of oxygen and bringing up mouthfuls of sticky white phlegm.” He would often vomit after coughing fits.

His general practitioner said that Zachary had a chest infection, and put him on an antibiotic, which merely gave him five days of diarrhea and did nothing for his cough. He became lethargic, dehydrated, and lost weight. Despite his mother’s pleas, doctors continued to diagnose with a virus or chest infection.

But Zachary had contracted whooping cough, and it nearly killed him. He has since made a miraculous and full recovery.

Pertussis starts like a common cold, with a runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and perhaps a mild cough or fever. After one to two weeks, however, the coughing becomes severe. In children and adults, the violent and rapid coughing makes them inhale so forcefully that it creates a loud “whooping” sound. In infants, this “whooping” sound is often missing from their cough. More than half of infants diagnosed with the disease require hospitalization.

Medical professionals maintain that the best way to protect against whooping cough is by getting vaccinated. Doctors hope that pregnant women who receive the vaccination in their third trimester will pass the benefits on to their unborn child to protect them in their first weeks of life.

[Image via Shutterstock]