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Whooping cough potentially fatal for infants

Sunday - 8/31/2014, 1:46pm  ET

WASHINGTON -- No one wants their child to get whooping cough. With cases on the rise, it's especially important to protect infants from the illness.

Dr. Toni Thompson-Chittams, a pediatrician in Bowie, Maryland, says there has been a resurgence of whooping cough -- also known as pertussis.

The bacterial disease "can certainly be fatal in infants," Thompson-Chittams says.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about half the babies who get whooping cough end up in the hospital, and a few even die from it.

Also, Thompson-Chittams says, pertussis can be especially dangerous for infants because "sometimes they cough so much that they can't breathe."

Babies typically get their first dose of pertussis vaccine when they are a few months old. But that is only the initial shot in a series, which means infants need extra protection.

The CDC urges expectant mothers to get a dose of the tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis -- or Tdap -- vaccine between the 27th and 36th week of each pregnancy in order to pass on some of their antibodies before birth.

It is essential for everyone that will come in contact with an infant to make sure their pertussis boosters are up to date. Vaccine protection fades over time, and doctors recommend a five shot series for children, and a booster every ten years for adults.

Dr. Linda Yau, with Foxhall Internists in D.C., says adults need boosters to protect their own health because "whooping cough is a terrible disease to get."

Still, she notes there's an extra incentive for grandparents and others who are going to be around babies.

The CDC says it takes roughly two weeks for the vaccine to build up protection against whooping cough, and urges anyone who plans to come in close contact with an infant to check their own immunization status well in advance.

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