In July 2016, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency reported that a five-week-old baby tragically died from whooping cough, a grave reminder that pregnant women need to be vaccinated. As San Diego’s CBS affiliate reported, the infant had been healthy until coming down with the highly contagious respiratory disease.
While whooping cough may seem rare, there were more than 32,000 cases reported nationally in 2014, a 15 percent increase from 2013, according to The Cut.
“The causes for the increase in cases are not fully understood, but are thought to include parents not vaccinating their children, and a new pertussis vaccine that doesn't last as long as the previous version,” The Cut wrote.
While it’s not known whether the mother of the child in San Diego was vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control (along with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American College of Nurse-Midwives) recommends that pregnant women get the whooping cough vaccine (called Tdap) between 27 and 36 weeks pregnant, for each pregnancy you have.
Even if you’ve received the vaccine with a previous pregnancy, you need to get it again. When moms-to-be are vaccinated, they pass antibodies to their unborn babies, which helps them in the first few months of life when they’re still too young to be fully vaccinated themselves. The CDC also recommends that people who will be in close contact with babies—like partners, caregivers and family members—get vaccinated.
The first signs of whooping cough often mimic a common cold, with runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and maybe a mild cough or fever. However, it’s important to point out that, according to the CDC, many babies with whooping cough don’t cough at all. Instead, they often have trouble breathing and develop pneumonia. About half of babies who get whooping cough end up in the hospital, and in the United States, up to 20 babies die every year from the illness, which is why the vaccinations are so important.