Vaccinated Teens May Protect Babies

Pertussis vaccination for teens helped reduce hospitalizations of babies with whooping cough

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D. Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) A baby who catches whooping cough often requires hospitalization. Only babies over 2 months old can receive the vaccine for this illness. But if many others in the community are vaccinated against the disease, that may help protect these young babies from it.

A recent study found that having more teens vaccinated against whooping cough reduced the number of babies going to the hospital for the illness.

The other medical name for whooping cough is pertussis. The disease has been increasing in the US over the past decade.

The vaccines for pertussis are called DTaP for babies and Tdap for teens and adults.

The vaccine also protects against tetanus and diphtheria diseases in addition to pertussis.

"Talk to your child's pediatrician about vaccinations."

This study, led by Katherine A. Auger, MD, MSc, of the Department of General Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, aimed to find out whether teenagers' vaccination rates helped babies with pertussis.

The Tdap vaccine against pertussis was recommended for all teens in 2006. Most teens (78 percent) had received the vaccine by five years later in 2011.

Therefore, the researchers compared the rates of hospitalization for babies with pertussis during the years before (2000 to 2005) and after (2008 to 2011) the teen vaccination recommendation.

The researchers found that about six babies out of every 10,000 admitted to the hospital had had pertussis in the year 2000.

This rate increased each year by almost one child per year (per 10,000 babies) until the researchers stopped measuring in 2005.

Then, the rate of babies admitted to the hospital for pertussis in 2008, 2009 and 2011 was lower than the numbers admitted before 2006.

The rate of babies admitted to the hospital for whooping cough in 2010 was not much different than the rates before the vaccine was recommended for teens.

A large pertussis epidemic spread throughout the US in the year 2010. It was the highest number of cases in the US since the 1940s.

"Adolescent Tdap vaccination appears to be partially effective in preventing pertussis hospitalizations among infants," the researchers wrote.

However, they added that wider use of the vaccine among more people in the population may be necessary to keep the rate of hospitalizations lower for infants with pertussis.

Thomas Seman, MD, a pediatrician at North Shore Pediatrics in Danvers, Mass., said it's important for anyone who will come into contact with children to be vaccinated against pertussis because infants have the greatest risk for hospitalization and respiratory distress.

"Not only does the cough cause severe problems in and of itself, but when a young child contracts the disease there is the potential for the child to just stop breathing, called apnea," Dr. Seman said.

"Pertussis has to be on the doctors' minds to diagnose since the first signs and symptoms for the disease are a cough, low grade fever and a runny nose – not that different from most mild viral infections," he said. "This phase usually lasts 7 to 10 days but ranges from 4 to 21 days, and it is during this time frame when the person with the disease is most contagious."

Dr. Seman said that a person with pertussis is no longer contagious once they have been treated for five days with antibiotics – but the disease needs to be caught early.

"Unfortunately, if the diagnosis is made too late, after three weeks, then the antibiotics only treat the contagiousness of the disease and do not treat the child with the disease," he said. "I still see pertussis every year with periodic outbreaks.

He said he often sees it in close-knit groups such as teams, school clubs, groups and scouts.

"So all teens, parents and teachers should be immunized to prevent further spread of this disease," he said.

This study was published October 21 in the journal Pediatrics. The research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 20, 2013
Last Updated:
October 25, 2013