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Whooping cough

I am a first time mum in my last trimester. Recently, I read in the newspaper that the number of babies suffering from whooping cough is on the rise and the Government is reviewing the policy of vaccinating pregnant mothers as a way of prevention. Do I need the vaccination? Is it safe? Any side effects?

Whooping cough or Pertussis is a serious and very contagious disease caused by the bacteria, Bordetella pertussis. The disease causes damage to the lungs which may result in death especially in young infants. It spreads easily through the coughs and sneezes of an infected person. Many infants get it through the older siblings, parents, or caregivers who may not even know they have the disease.

In the initial stage, symptoms of whooping cough are similar to those of a common cold such as coughing, sneezing, running nose and low grade fever. After about 1-2 weeks, the patient may gasp for air with a typical high-pitched "whoop" following many rapid and prolonged coughing fits. Vomiting may occur during or after the coughing bout.

Infants may not cough with the whooping sound, but they may try to catch their breath during the coughing spells. Serious complications such as pneumonia (lung infection), apnoea (a pause when breathing stops) and death may occur especially in those who are not fully vaccinated.

Vaccination during pregnancy is the most effective way to protect the new born. According to the 2016 edition of the “CLINICAL PRACTICE GUIDELINES ON ADULT VACCINATION IN SINGAPORE” published by Society of Infectious Diseases Singapore, Institute of Infectious Diseases and epidemiology, College of Family Physicians Singapore and Chapter of Infectious Disease Physicians, Academy of Medicine, Pertussis vaccination is recommended for routine administration in pregnancy.

The ideal time for vaccination is at the last trimester of pregnancy as the immune response to the vaccine peaks two weeks after administration After vaccination, the mother will produce the protective antibodies which then pass to the infant to provide early protection.

The vaccine is safe with no adverse effects to the mother and child. It is also safe to breastfeed. Side effects are usually mild and include mild fever, fatigue or soreness at the site of the injection.

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