Whooping cough or pertussis is making a big comeback. This year alone there have been about 32,000 cases reported, with 16 deaths. At greatest risks are those at the beginning and end of life (newborns and elderly) and individuals with serious medical illnesses such as cancer.

What is whooping cough? It is a nasty infection, which primarily affects the lungs. Patients have a very prominent, difficult to get rid of cough and may have shortness of breath. At times the infection may cause a serious drop in oxygen or even death.

For some time there has been a vaccine for whooping cough. The vaccine was changed to an acellular version so as to reduce even further the very rare risk of serious side effects. Some claim that having the vaccine increases the risk for autism, but there is absolutely no credible evidence for this theory. In fact, the risk of dying is greater not having the vaccine than having it. This is because unprotected individuals are much more likely to develop serious complications from the infection. Still, the risk of dying is small, but why take that risk?

Recently, an advisory committee on vaccines has recommended that this vaccine be given to pregnant females. Only one other vaccine has been recommended during pregnancy and that is influenza. While the mother is at risk for acquiring pertussis, the baby is at much greater risk for dying or suffering serious infection. The risks of this vaccine, as I mentioned earlier are truly very, very small.

Currently, school age children and adults who either never received the vaccine or are at high risk for complications from whooping cough receive this vaccine. Added to the list are pregnant females. With enough vaccination, perhaps a herd immunity can be created. This is where at least 80% of the population is vaccinated and the disease kind of just goes away, something like what happened with smallpox.

Bottom line is consider vaccination against pertussis if you are pregnant or are suffering from serious medical illnesses.