Have you ever heard a child with pertussis (whooping cough)? Chances are, thanks to decades of pertussis vaccines, you haven’t. Watch a video of a baby with the disease to see why preventing this illness through vaccination is so important.
But waning vaccine immunity and sagging vaccination rates are allowing pertussis to make a comeback. In April, a couple lost their 38-day old infant to the disease. California health officials raised serious concerns after four infant deaths and a sharp increase in cases statewide this year— 346, up from 129 at the same time a year ago. Now outbreaks are cropping up in parts of Illinois, Texas, Minnesota, and Idaho. The disease has hit newborns and infants the hardest, and many of them contracted it from an ill sibling or close contact.
The resurgence of pertussis gained attention from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention several years ago, especially after a rash of hospital-acquired cases and newborn deaths. Adults and adolescents with pertussis, which presents as a cough or common cold, were found to be spreading the disease to vulnerable infants. As a result, in 2006 experts recommended use of a diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis (Tdap) vaccine.
To help control this growing epidemic, ANA encourages all nurses to heed the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ recommendation that healthcare workers be immunized with Tdap. Guidelines suggest Tdap be substituted for the routine tetanus booster every 10 years, but it could be given sooner to nurses who have close contact with infants, such as newborn nursery or pediatric nurses. Nurses should urge new or expectant parents and grandparents, or other close contacts of infants, to get vaccinated as well. By doing so, nurses and others help build a protective cocoon for vulnerable infants.
For more on the importance of vaccines for nurses and public health, visit http://www.nursingworld.org/immunize/ –part of ANA’s Bringing Immunity to Every Community project.
Katie Brewer is a senior policy analyst at ANA and immunization project director.