THE BLOG
06/26/2014 10:21 am ET | Updated Aug 26, 2014

A Message for Parents: How You Can Help Stop the Spread of Whooping Cough to Our Babies

Having a baby changes the life of every parent as they begin a new journey filled not only with excitement, but also great responsibility. One of the most important goals of any parent is to keep their baby healthy and safe. But what if there's something parents didn't know they should be doing? What if it could mean the difference between life and death? No parent should ever have to experience the tragedy of losing an infant or watching them struggle for their next breath, or worse yet, be the unknowing cause of that devastation.

As a parent, I have done my research in order to make informed decisions about my health and the well-being of my children. America is experiencing a resurgence of pertussis, with more cases reported in the last 10 years than the prior 40 years combined, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is so important for us as parents to know what we can do to help protect ourselves and our babies from this highly contagious and often serious disease. In adolescents and adults, it usually presents as a severe cough that may last for weeks or even months and the milder form is often mistaken for the common cold or bronchitis. But what's especially concerning is that pertussis can be easily spread and in babies it can be potentially fatal. I knew I needed to take action after learning that researchers found that when it could be determined how an infant caught pertussis, family members were responsible for spreading the disease to the baby in up to 80 percent of cases.1 More specifically, parents were responsible up to 50 percent of the time.2

My children are my top priority and I've always put their health and safety first, that's why I didn't hesitate when Sanofi Pasteur and March of Dimes asked me to join the Sounds of Pertussis Campaign to help raise awareness about the potential dangers of pertussis and the importance of adult tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccination. As the National Sounds of Pertussis Campaign Ambassador, I am urging parents to make sure that anyone who comes in contact with their baby is up to date on their adult Tdap vaccination to help protect themselves and to help stop the spread of the disease to their babies.

While I have been fortunate that my own family has not been directly impacted by pertussis, the reported statistics are staggering, and the need for education and prevention is imperative. Here is some of the important information I learned in my own research:

• Estimates indicate that there may be as many as 800,000 to 3.3 million adult and adolescent cases of pertussis in the U.S. in any given year.

• Immunity from early childhood pertussis vaccinations wears off after about five to 10 years, so adults who were immunized as children may no longer be protected, making them more vulnerable to the disease, which they can spread to others.2

• Infants are particularly vulnerable against pertussis because they don't begin receiving their own immunizations until they are two months old and may not be protected until they've had at least three doses of an infant pertussis vaccine.

• More than half of babies younger than one year of age who get the disease must be hospitalized.

• In 2013, 100 percent of pertussis deaths occurred in infants younger than 12 months of age.

As parents,the responsibility is ours to help protect the greatest gift we can receive -- our children. That's why I made sure I was up to date on my adult pertussis vaccination and asked my friends and family to do the same. It's so important to know that there are simple steps you can take as an adult to help protect yourself and to help stop the spread of pertussis to infants. I'm asking you to join me in this effort.

Please visit SoundsOfPertussis.com to learn more about pertussis and the Sounds of Pertussis Campaign. There, you can access the Campaign's Facebook application, the Breathing Room, which allows parents to send a brief message to family and friends in their Facebook network asking them to make the pledge to be vaccinated against pertussis, as well as Grandparents' Corner, an online resource that provides customized tools and resources to help grandparents learn more about pertussis.

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References:

1. Wendelboe AM, Njamkempo E, Bourillon A et al. "Transmission of Bordetella pertussis to young infants." Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2007;26(4):293-9.

2. Bisgard KM, Pascual FB, Ehresmann KR et al. "Infant pertussis: Who was the source?" Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2004;23(11):985-9.