Tell it to SunStar: Let’s beat pertussis

Tell it to SunStar.
Tell it to SunStar.SunStar file photo

By Nora Abesamis Redulla, M.D., FPPS

I’ll never forget the babies I saw with pertussis. They would cough non-stop with their eyes bulging, not taking a breath until their faces turned blue. Their mothers would be terrified as they (and we) watched helplessly. Sometimes the coughing was so violent that blood vessels in the whites of their eyes would burst.

Some very young infants stop breathing for a length of time after a bout of coughing. This is extremely frightening. Many will vomit after a coughing spell. Some babies will have brain hemorrhage. Another cause for concern is that the illness lasts for many weeks, even with treatment. It used to be called the 100-day cough. In fact, bouts of coughing spells can occur throughout the first year of life after a baby has pertussis.

The word pertussis means intense or violent cough. It is also known as whooping cough, but most patients do not actually whoop. Early in the 20th century, five out of every 1,000 children died of pertussis before their fifth birthday. Most were below a year old. By the middle of that century, pertussis vaccine had become widely given, usually together with Diphtheria and Tetanus toxoids (DPT).

Pertussis is extremely contagious. Like Covid-19, it can be airborne and is also transmitted through aerosol droplets. I am so grateful for the vaccine that put this disease under control. Unfortunately, with the fall in vaccination rates during the pandemic, this disease is having a resurgence.

Update your family’s DPT or TdaP vaccinations, especially if there is an infant in the home. Pregnant women should receive TdaP (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis), not just tetanus toxoid, to provide antibodies to the fetus before birth. This practice is called cocooning—surrounding babies with vaccinated household members because they are too young to be fully vaccinated.

Let’s make pertussis a disease of purely historical interest.


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