Whooping cough vaccination

Every few years, there is a large whooping cough (pertussis) epidemic in Australia, and in 2015 outbreaks have been recorded in several areas, including Sydney. Although not extremely dangerous in the adult population, pertussis can be very dangerous for newborn babies, as it kills 1 in 100 babies on average. Dr Nadya Chami from Specialist Clinics of Australia feels it is an important topic to discuss with women who are pregnant.

Problems with protection of infants

Although whooping cough also affects adolescents and young adults, the disease is especially dangerous for infants less than 3 months old. They are prone to the highest risk of complications. Babies can receive immunisation only starting from 2 months of age, but newborns are too young for routine immunisation.

“In order for them to be protected against pertussis, pregnant women are advised to receive the immunisation themselves. This  transfers immunity to the newborn baby to fight against the infection,” advises Dr Chami.

Facts about pertussis

Pertussis is a bacterial infection that causes irritating cough, which can often develop into prolonged bouts of coughing and may be accompanied by vomiting. Pertussis bacteria spread by whooping-cough-vaccination-factsrespiratory droplets in the air, expelled during coughing or sneezing. It can also spread indirectly, through other kinds of contact with the droplets that are left on another person or an object.

The disease can be very serious in infants under 6 months. Infection can lead to pneumonia, weight loss, hypoxia (inadequate oxygen supply), which can lead to brain damage and death. Less dangerous complications involve bloodshot eyes, nosebleeds, facial swelling, mouth ulcers and ear infections.

Why vaccinate pregnant women against pertussis & other questions:

Why offer pregnant women immunisation against pertussis?

In order to protect their newborn babies against pertussis, pregnant women should receive routine immunisations:

How does immunising pregnant women protect babies?

Dr Chami educates her patients that the aim of immunisation is for the body to produce antibodies that will fight the infection once it has been exposed. It either prevents or reduces the severity of infections. If you vaccinate against pertussis while pregnant, the antibodies will cross the placenta to the fetus and your unborn baby will receive the antibodies against pertussis. This immunity does not last for long (only a few months), so infants still have to follow immunisation schedule. Dr Chami further explains that the other benefit of the mother receiving the vaccination is that it lowers the risk of her becoming infected with pertussis.

When should pregnant women receive the vaccine?

The ideal time for a pregnant woman to receive the vaccination against pertussis is in the period between the 28th and 32 weeks of pregnancy. Immunisation during this time will increase the level of pertussis antibodies and allows sufficient time for the transfer of those antibodies to the unborn child. After this time the vaccination should be offered anyway as will it always provide a form of direct protection. “Additionally, immunisation reduces the risk of the mother getting infected with pertussis in the postpartum period, helping her protecting her infant this way,” reminds Dr Chami.

How safe is this vaccine for pregnant women?

The dTpa (diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis) vaccine is recommended for pregnant women in their third trimester of pregnancy. Millions of doses of the vaccine have been sold around the world and it is considered to be very safe. Administering the vaccine to pregnant women showed no risks to their pregnancy.

What side effects may be seen from the vaccination?

Common side effects include: diarrhoea, vomiting, weakness, nausea, headache, joint and muscle pain, mild fever and injection site reactions (redness and inflammation). There is 1 in 1.000.000 possibility of the vaccine causing a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. “Generally, the possible side effects in pregnant women are expected to be the same when compared with other adults,” explains Dr Chami.

What are the reasons for the vaccine not to be administered?

The pertussis vaccine should not be administered to people who have had a confirmed anaphylactic reaction to a previous dose of pertussis, diphtheria, tetanus or polio vaccines or a confirmed anaphylactic reaction to any component of the vaccine. Immunisation should be postponed if a patient is seriously unwell and has a fever as this might wrongly associate the cause of ever and its progression.

Although the number of pertussis cases has significantly decreased, Sydney is currently experiencing an outbreak of the infection. It does not take much to stay on the safe side, though. Protect yourself and your unborn baby and do not let whooping cough affect them.


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