If you're planning on adding another child to your family-or thinking about starting a family-you might want to consider getting the whooping cough vaccine before you get pregnant.
Why would you do that? According to a new study from Australia, babies who are born to women that are vaccinated with the whooping cough (also known as Pertussis) vaccine before they become pregnant have a 50% lower risk of developing the disease.
Whooping cough is an infection of the respiratory system. It mainly affects infants younger than 6 months old before they are immunized, and kids 11 to 18 years old whose immunity has started to decrease. Pertussis is characterized by severe coughing spells that may produce a whooping sound when the child breathes in.
It is highly contagious and before the Pertussis vaccine was available it killed 5,000 to 10,000 people in the U.S. each year. Now that there is a vaccine, the annual number of deaths is less than 30. But in recent years, the number of cases has started to rise. By 2004, the number of whooping cough cases spiked past 25,000, the highest level it's been since the 1950s.
The researchers looked at 217 babies ages 4 months and younger who had whooping cough. They compared them with 585 healthy infants born at the same time in the same area.
They discovered that a similar percentage of mothers - in both groups - received the whooping cough vaccine. However, 41 percent of the moms of healthy babies had been vaccinated at least four weeks before their infant became sick. However, of the mothers whose babies had whooping cough, only 27 percent of mothers had been vaccinated at least four weeks earlier.
Also in the healthy baby group, 26 percent of the mothers said they had been vaccinated before their baby was born, while only 14 percent of mothers whose babies had whooping cough said they had been vaccinated before delivery.
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Once thought to be under control, Whooping Couch is on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Thursday that nearly 18,000 cases have been reported so far. That's twice the number reported at this point last year. At this pace, the number for the entire year will be the highest since 1959, when 40,000 illnesses were reported.
Nine children have died, and health officials called on adults - especially pregnant women and those who spend time around children - to get a booster shot as soon as possible.
"My biggest concern is for the babies. They're the ones who get hit the hardest," said Mary Selecky, chief of the health department in Washington, one of the states with the biggest outbreaks. Washington and Wisconsin have reported more than 3,000 cases each, and high numbers have been seen in a number of other states, including New York, Minnesota and Arizona. Texas is also reporting a higher number of cases than normal.
Health investigators are trying to figure out what's going on, and theories include better detection and reporting of cases, some sort of evolution in the bacteria that cause the illness, or shortcomings in the vaccine.
The vaccine that had been given to young children for decades was replaced in the late 1990s following concerns about rashes, fevers and other side effects. While the new version is considered safer, it is possible it isn't as effective long term, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, who oversees the CDC's immunization and respiratory disease programs.
Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious disease that can strike people of any age but is most dangerous to children. Its name comes from the sound children make as they gasp for breath.
Experts believe whooping cough occurs in cycles and peaks every three to five years. But they have been startled to see peaks this high. Vaccinations are supposed to tamp down the amount of infection in the population and make the val