There has been a lot of information in the media lately about the increase in cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough. In Washington State, there have been more than 1400 cases this year with most occurring in kids under age 18. In older kids and healthy adults, whooping cough is more of an annoyance: the cough persists, is hard to stop, and leads to missed days of school and work. But for babies, whooping cough can be fatal. It can lead to pneumonia and coughing episodes that prevent the baby from being able to breath.

So why bring up an illness that can be fatal to babies in a blog for teens and parents of teens? 

Well, babies have to catch pertussis (whooping cough) from someone and usually it’s from a family member or caregiver who has the annoying cough of pertussis that just won’t go away.  For babies, getting vaccinated can protect against pertussis. The CDC recommends infant vaccinations at 2, 4, 6 months and again between 15-18 months, however a baby that is not fully vaccinated or too young to be vaccinated is at risk for this potentially serious infection. Also, the protection from the vaccine doesn’t ‘last’ forever so a person who was vaccinated as a baby can be vulnerable to catching whooping cough as a teen or young adult. It’s for this reason that the CDC recommends a booster vaccination at 11-12 years of age and one as an adult as well. The booster includes protection from pertussis as well as tetanus (an infection that affects the nervous system and can lead to death) and diphtheria (another infection that can lead to cough, sore throat, fever and more serious problems).

The choice to vaccinate is a personal decision for parents and families. Vaccinations are not all created equally. They work in different ways that stimulate your body to be protected from infection. Every choice has risks and benefits, so I would encourage all parents to talk with your child’s primary care provider and ask for information about vaccinations. Be certain to ask about side effects and benefits. Most medical providers will also give you written information about vaccinations as well. If your child is under 19, they are eligible for free vaccines in Washington State through the childhood vaccine program. For parents of teens, just remember that vaccinations aren’t only for babies, there are some vaccinations that are recommended during the pre-teen and teen years too.