A few years ago, when I was still working as a nurse, there was a big public health campaign encouraging adults to get vaccinated against pertussis. I was initially skeptical. Most children of my generation were vaccinated against pertussis during childhood. From my admittedly limited perspective, whooping cough was a disease that was old-fashioned and close to eradicated in the modern-day United States.

Imagine my surprise when I developed a horrible cough and was diagnosed with pertussis about a month after scoffing at the campaign. I was vaccinated immediately, and spread the word to my friends and colleagues to consider getting a pertussis booster shot.

Pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial respiratory disease. As indicated by its common name, the hallmark of the illness is uncontrollable and often violent coughing fits. While annoying, the disease is rarely dangerous in adults. Infants and young children are much more likely to develop serious, sometimes life-threatening complications from pertussis. The younger a baby is, the more serious the complications can be.

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This year, the CDC updated their immunization guidelines and now recommends that women receive the tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis (TDaP) vaccine during each pregnancy. The best time to get the vaccination is between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy.

The rationale behind these recommendations is that the antibodies produced by the mother after receiving the vaccine will offer protection for the newborn during the early weeks of life, before they can be vaccinated at 2 months. Additionally, it protects the mother from contracting whooping cough and passing it to her baby.

The CDC reports that newborns that contract whooping cough most often catch it from someone in the household, most often from mom. Anyone who will be in close contact with a newborn should ensure that they have received the TDaP vaccine booster as an adult. This includes fathers, grandparents and caregivers.

Please do your part to educate all patients of childbearing age about these important vaccination guidelines.