The other afternoon my husband and I got Tdap shots – inoculating ourselves against diphtheria, tetanus and, most important, pertussis, or whooping cough. Whooping cough, you are probably wondering. Why would you worry about that? Didn't whooping cough go out with hoop skirts?
The answer is yes and no. Two decades ago, the disease was largely eradicated in the United States by regular inoculations. But it's once again on the rise; the CDC reported 17,000 cases in 2009. New babies, who haven't yet been vaccinated, are particularly at risk. Their tiny systems can't contend with the ravages of this bacterial infection, with symptoms that can last so long it's sometimes called the 100 days' cough. Ten infants died in a whooping cough outbreak in California last year. My daughter lives in San Francisco, and as soon as she found out she was pregnant, she gave Stephan and me our marching orders: get a shot.
Since then, I've noticed a public service ad on TV that urges adults to get vaccinated, reporting that 80% of infants who come down with pertussis catch it from a family member. A few months ago, my hairdresser's sister was not allowed to bring her premie home from the hospital until she got the shot. If you were inoculated as a child, a single injection will protect you for 10 years. The excellent Mayo Clinic website gives a rundown on what's required.
So if there's a baby on the way in your family, make an appointment with your doctor, or see if your health department has a clinic that will administer the shot. That's where Stephan and I got vaccinated, which is considered so important there wasn't even a charge. For once I'm happy to say: "Our tax dollars at work."