Now that Sarah Michelle Gellar has traded in slaying vampires for having a family, one of her biggest concerns is protecting her kids from diseases like pertussis, or whooping cough. She’s teamed up with March of Dimes and Sanofi Pasteur as the spokesperson for their Sounds of Pertussis campaign, aimed at educating parents and caregivers on the importance of getting the pertussis vaccine.
“When you realize that something like pertussis is potentially fatal to infants, my own included,” says Gellar, “you have to speak out and you have to speak up.”
Gellar had her son Rocky in September, and not only did she vaccinate herself, but she asked her friends and family to get the pertussis vaccine to protect her son from contracting the illness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The U.S. is experiencing the largest outbreak of pertussis in the last 50 years, and almost 80 percent of infant cases of pertussis, when the source is traceable, have been linked back to their closest family members. Even more, 50 percent of traceable cases have found that parents were responsible for spreading pertussis to their child.
“When you’re into those childbearing years and you’re going to be a mother, a father, an in-law - one of those things where you come into contact with these newborns, it’s really important to get the adult booster,” says Gellar.
Though Gellar is speaking out about adults getting the Tdap vaccine, other experts urge parents to have their child vaccinated as soon as they are able. Kathryn Edwards, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University, and secretary of the Infectious Disease Society of America spoke with me last year about the rise in whooping cough cases. Dr. Edwards has been working on the whooping cough vaccine for many years, and agrees that young children are most vulnerable, because they cannot be vaccinated before six weeks of age.
In addition, Gellar and Dr. Edwards both noted that even if you had the vaccine when you were a child, immunity wanes after five to ten years, which leaves people susceptible to the disease, which they can then pass on to others.
“The only way to help stop the spread of pertussis is to vaccinate against pertussis,” Says Gellar.
If you are concerned your child might have contracted whooping cough, it’s important to take your child to the doctor as soon as possible, as it is best treated when caught early. One way to know what the cough sounds like is to go to www.soundsofpertussis.com to listen to audio of the cough. Gellar says this can help familiarize you with the sound, so you know if your child needs to go to the doctor.
“It has this sort of whooping or hooping sound,” she says. “In an adult it can just sound like an average cough that could be confused for anything, but in a child, they have such a hard time with the intake of air that they can turn blue, they can vomit – it’s incredibly severe.”
In addition, she recommends getting the facebook app, called The Breathing Room, which can help you map your friends and family, get information, and allow them to pledge to get the vaccine.
Gellar’s parting advice to parents is “trust your instincts. There is a reason why we’re here, and it’s to have these children and to love them and cherish every day you spend with them.”