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Frequently asked questions on whooping cough

March 30th, 2015 | Blog | Tags:

Since the tragic death of four-week-old baby Riley from whooping cough in Perth recently, talk about whooping cough has escalated. Today I am answering some recent questions. In doing so information has been taken from the Australian Government Department of Health’s Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Unit and the Centre for Disease Control which is the recognised authority in the USA.

What is whooping cough?

  • Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease. It is caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria.
  • It is spread by droplets from coughing and sneezing.
  • People susceptible to catching the disease are those who are either not vaccinated or have waning immunity since their childhood vaccination.
  • Whooping cough is particularly serious in infants under 12 months of age.

    Should my baby be immunised?

  • Symptoms usually include those similar to a cold. Severe cases include sudden, repetitive coughing (and a characteristic ‘whoop’). Babies may have pauses in breathing (apnoea) and/or vomiting.
  • A person with whooping cough is infectious for up to three weeks after they start coughing.
  • The cough associated with whooping cough can remain for months.

Should my baby be immunised?

  • Babies are particularly at risk after birth while awaiting their first immunisation for whooping cough at 6 weeks.
  • From late March 2015 a number of Australian states have offered a free immunisation for women in their last trimester of pregnancy. Antibodies developed by the mother pass to the foetus and can offer up to 90% protection.
  • Complete immunisation of newborn children, their parents, grandparents and other carers remains the most effective measure to control whooping cough.
  • Whooping cough vaccination is offered as part of government-funded immunisation programs for children at six weeks, four and six months, at four years and in year 10 of secondary school (or 15 years of age).
  • Protection from immunisation or having had the disease begins to fade after 6-10 years.
  • All parents with children under eight years of age should check their child’s immunisations and catch up any missed doses.

Do adults need whooping cough vaccine?

  • If not already vaccinated, pregnant women should receive the booster vaccine late in the second trimester or during the third trimester of pregnancy.
  • Adults age 65 years and older need a one-time whooping cough booster if they are likely to have close contact with infants younger than 12 months.
  • All adults age 19 to 64 years need a one-time whooping cough booster vaccine.
  • Adult booster vaccines (combined with diphtheria and tetanus) are recommended for the following groups who have previously completed a primary (childhood) course of vaccine:
    • adults planning pregnancy
    • pregnant women in the last trimester of pregnancy
    • both parents as soon as possible after birth if they have not been immunised
    • adults caring for very young babies, especially health-care workers and child-care workers
    • any adult wishing to protect themselves against whooping cough
  • The whooping cough booster is given as a combination vaccine with tetanus and diphtheria called TDaP.
  • Once an adult gets their TDaP vaccine, he or she should get the TD (tetanus and diphtheria) booster every 10 years from then on.

Sleep well.

Dr Brian Symon

The Babysleep Doctor

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