A few weeks ago, I took myself off to the GP to get a whooping cough jab. It wasn’t something I had done or even been offered in my pregnancy with Allegra, but the Department of Health is now recommending that expectant mothers in weeks 28-38 of their pregnancy should get vaccinated: it is the only way to protect your baby from whooping cough from the day they are born and it works by the antibodies that the immunised pregnant woman produces, crossing the placenta to the foetus so that he or she then has the antibodies to fight against the infection.
This immunity is however short lived so it’s important that children still get their vaccinations as part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule.
Rather frighteningly the number of babies under 3 months who have been developing severe whooping cough has been on the rise recently and tragically 13 babies have actually died from whooping cough in England and Wales this past year, which is just awful.
Apparently, whooping cough is a cyclical disease with the number of cases peaking every three to four years and since mid to late 2011 there has been another increase, the largest seen in the UK for over a decade. Up to the end of October this year, over 7,700 cases of whooping cough had been confirmed in England and Wales, compared with 797 cases in the same period during the last outbreak in 2008. Nearly 400 cases have been in babies less than three months of age who are at risk of complications because they are too young to be protected through routine vaccine.
The only way to help protect babies from the day they are born is for pregnant women to receive the whooping cough vaccine. An immunisation programme has therefore been introduced by the Department of Health in response to the outbreak and all pregnant women between 28 and 38 weeks are now being urged to take up the offer of the vaccine.
Some fast facts about whooping cough:
- It is also known as pertussis
- It’s a highly contagious bacterial infection of the lungs and airways
- Cases in 2012 are nearly ten times higher than the last outbreak in 2008
- Adults can be affected but it often goes unrecognised. Infants are mostly affected and are at higher risk of complications and even death
- It is spread through the air when a person infected coughs or sneezes
Spot the symptoms:
The condition usually begins with a persistent dry and irritating cough that progresses to intense bouts of coughing. These are followed by a distinctive ‘whooping’ noise, which is how the condition gets its name. Other symptoms include a runny nose, raised temperature and vomiting after coughing.
Symptoms in infants:
- Similar to a common cold; runny nose, sneezing, mild cough, low grade fever
- Gagging or gasping after coughing
- Breathing stops temporarily
- Choking or becoming blue in the face
When I read this terrible article about poor little Poppy Webber who was only 2 weeks old when she contracted whooping cough and was left fighting for her life, I didn’t think twice about having the jab. Apparently there is no evidence to suggest that the use of the vaccine (Repevax®) during pregnancy is unsafe for either the mother or unborn baby and it has been used in the UK childhood immunisation programme since 2004. It is also used in other countries and has an excellent safety record.
It’s truly terrifying to think that your newborn could pick up this disease and what the consequences could be in extreme circumstances. There was no way I’d be willing to take that risk. The jab was quick, a bit stingy, and gave me an achy arm for about 24-hours afterwards, but at least I have the peace of mind now that baby number two is protected, so of course it was worth any minor discomfort.
For more information and advice, talk to your GP, midwife or health visitor and/or go to http://www.nhs.uk/whoopingcoughvaccine