A newborn's pertussis ordeal

At just four months old, Kristine Keefe's son, Dean, has been through a lot. He has just recently gotten over a case of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, which he developed at a month old. After the rough experience her son and family have been through, Kristine is doing everything she can to spread the word about pertussis and the dangers it carries for infants.

At just over a month old, Dean developed what his parents thought was a cold. After a few days, however, his cough started getting worse. They took him to the doctor, who mentioned pertussis as a possibility and advised them to call if Dean's cough got worse. Over the weekend, it did get worse. Dean would cough to the point of turning purple, and gasped for air as he coughed. Finally the pediatrician told them to go to the emergency room.

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial infection. Its trademark sign is intense coughing that makes it hard to breath. The coughs often have a whooping sound to them as the person tries to breathe, which is why pertussis is also known as whooping cough. (The whooping sound is most often seen in children over 6 months old). In infants, the disease can be fatal.

Kristine had such a hard time even obtaining a diagnosis. The ER doctors brushed off Kristine's and her son's pediatrician's concerns about pertussis. "I was even patronized, being asked if he was my first baby, as if I was just a nervous mom who was overreacting." she later said.

Finally, 13 days after first seeing his pediatrician, Dean was admitted into the hospital. There he was monitored night and day to ensure no problems arose. His oxygen levels were monitored, and occasionally they cleared his lungs. "I think I cried more than he did. It was very difficult to see my son so sick." Before being discharged from the hospital, Dean's parents were taught infant CPR in case of any complications.

Even considering the fact that he threw up and turned purple while coughing, and needed to be monitored in the hospital for 6 days, Dean's case of pertussis is not considered a severe one. Pertussis at any level is very dangerous for infants. They can stop breathing and even lose consciousness for short periods of time. In an extreme case, pertussis can be fatal.

Infants will receive immunization against the disease when they get their DTaP vaccine (a combination diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccine). However, the immunization doesn't take full effect until the third dose, commonly given around 6 months of age. Until then, a baby is at risk of catching pertussis from unvaccinated adults.

Pertussis is most often spread to babies by their caregivers. Many adults have gotten the vaccine when they were children, and think they are still protected by it. The truth is, the vaccine wears off after about 5 to 10 years after the last childhood vaccine. Adults need to get a booster of the vaccine (known as the TDaP vaccine) in order to still be fully protected from pertussis. The safety of the vaccine during pregnancy is not known, but pregnant women can usually opt to get the vaccine after delivering their baby.

It is important to know the signs of pertussis. It usually produces no symptoms for about a week. Then, an infected person develops cold-like symptoms. About 10-12 days later, the severe coughing starts. Vomiting, choking, and loss of consciousness can also occur. Other signs include a runny nose, low fever, and diarrhea. Often, adults don't realize they have pertussis. They think they have a cold unless they infect an infant and the disease is diagnosed in that infant.

Kristine and her family are just now recovering from the whole ordeal, and she doesn't want anyone to have to go through what they went through. She has been urging all of her friends, parents or not, to get the pertussis booster, hoping it will help save another family from having to go through what she and her family went through.

Sources:

PubMed Health: Pertussis

WebMD: Whooping Cough and the DTaP Vaccine

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