Whooping Cough in Infants
Cases of whooping cough in infants younger than five months old have increased more than 50 percent since the 1980s. Infants under the age of 12 months may become seriously ill as a result of whooping cough, and are more likely to develop complications and be hospitalized than people in other age groups. Methods of preventing whooping cough in infants include the DTaP vaccine (diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine), which has been proven safe and effective.
Whooping Cough in Infants: An Overview
Infants under the age of 12 months may become seriously ill as a result of whooping cough (pertussis), and they are more likely to have whooping cough complications and be hospitalized than people in other age groups.
In the 1990s, about two-thirds of infants reported with whooping cough were hospitalized. Infants are more likely to have complications such as pneumonia or convulsions. Infants are also at greatest risk of fatal pertussis. In recent years, 15 to 21 infant deaths from whooping cough have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) annually.
Trends of Whooping Cough in Infants
Reported cases of whooping cough among infants younger than five months have been increasing since the 1980s. For example, the number of reported cases among infants younger than five months was about 600 per year in the early 1980s, and about 1,700 per year at the end of the 1990s. The average reported rate among infants in this age group increased more than 50 percent in the 1990s compared with the 1980s (the average reported rate in the 1990s was 89 per 100,000 infants). By contrast, among infants aged 5 to 11 months, there was no increase in the reported rate from the 1980s to the present.
Preventing Whooping Cough in Infants
In the U.S., we have the vaccine called DTaP (diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine). DTaP is safe and effective and prevents severe pertussis and death among infants and young children. The best way to protect infants from whooping cough is to administer the DTaP vaccine starting on time at two months of age. Parents should vaccinate their infant on time (at two, four, and six months of age) and complete all the recommended doses of DTaP vaccine (other doses are recommended at 15 to 18 months of age and again at between 4 and 6 years of age) to best protect their infant.
At least three DTaP doses are needed to have the maximum benefit from the pertussis vaccine. However, even one or two doses of DTaP will provide some protection against whooping cough. Parents are urged to make sure their infant receives these doses on time.
Parents can help protect their infants by getting a pertussis booster (Adacel®, Boostrix®) themselves. Parents can also help protect their very young infants by minimizing exposure (close contact) with people who have cold symptoms or cough illness. Coughing people of any age, including parents, siblings, and grandparents, can have pertussis. When a person has cold symptoms or cough illness, they need to stay away from young infants as much as possible.