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Study shows pertussis vaccine in teens may help reduce infant hospitalizations

Photo: Rhoda Baer

A new study by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital shows that increased efforts to vaccinate teens for pertussis is actually having a positive effect on hospitalization rates among infants.

The study, published this week by the journal Pediatrics, found that hospitalization rates were 30 percent less than researchers would have seen had there not been a vaccine according to the study’s authors.

The reason: data shows that many children and infants contract the disease from older siblings.

“For every 10,000 infants, we saw 3.3 pertussis hospitalizations. We expected 10.7 hospitalizations had there not been a vaccine,” said the study’s lead author, Katherine Auger, M.D.

Also commonly known as whooping cough, pertussis is a highly contagious and serious disease, especially for young children and infants whose immune systems are not as advanced as teens and adults.

Pertussis is preventable through vaccination but newborns cannot get the first dose until they are two months old, with four more vaccinations needed by age 7 for full protection.

“This is an encouraging study and an important step forward in looking for ways to improve the pertussis vaccination process and care,” said Mark Schleiss, M.D., an American Legion and Auxiliary Heart Research Foundation Professor within the University of Minnesota’s Medical School and division director of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology, who was not involved with the study. “This study is an excellent example that pertussis immunizations work well in protecting our most vulnerable population.”

According to Auger, studies have shown that infants often contract pertussis from an older sibling.

Schleiss says that with this fact in mind it is even more important to remind caretakers and parents, especially moms, that the best way to protect infants and young children against pertussis is to get vaccinated themselves and not to forget to get young adults and teens vaccinated, too.

The CDC also recommends a booster shot called Tdap be administered for 11 and 12 year-olds at regular clinical visits. The Tdap booster shot helps to build up immunity against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

The CDC also recommends that teens aged 13-18 years old who haven’t gotten the Tdap shot yet should talk with their parents and their doctor about getting it now.

For more information on the pertussis study and further recommendations please see this CNN article.

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