When Pertussis Attacks

Abdullah Ammar bin Mohamad Razlan was just a year old when he caught a fever and cough from his mother who was breastfeeding him. Little Ammar’s cough soon worsened and there was a “whoop” sound that punctuated his coughs. His parents, Mohamad Razlan and Azmahani, brought him to see a Traditional and Complementary Medicine (TCM) practitioner, who prescribed honey, black seed oil, virgin coconut oil and pro-gut capsules that were intended to reduce the severity of the fever and cough.

Ammar’s parents hoped that the TCM treatment would cure Ammar’s cough without resorting to conventional medications. However, although his symptoms improved, the cough did not go away. Worried, his parents took him to a private hospital to see a paediatrician.

When the illness progressed

“The paediatrician immediately tested my son for pertussis. We were also given the option to hospitalise him, but we chose to bring him home to continue the TCM treatment in conjunction with conventional treatment. The results came back positive for pertussis two weeks later,” recounted Mohammad Razlan.

The paediatrician explained to Ammar’s parents that pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a very serious childhood illness caused by an infection from a bacterium known as Bordetella pertussis. He also explained that because Ammar had not been vaccinated against pertussis, he was susceptible to the infection.

In addition to fever, sneezing, vomiting, and a runny nose, the child can turn blue or experience bleeding within the whites of the eyes during severe coughing spells. Life-threatening complications such as fits, broken ribs, brain and lung damage, pneumonia and even death can occur in very severe cases.

With the positive results in hand, the paediatrician prescribed Ammar a course of the correct antibiotics. His cough reduced considerably after treatment. Three months later, Ammar was back to being a happy, healthy child.

Prevention is best

A pertussis infection can become a nightmare for many families and it is up to parents to protect their children from this bacterium as best as they can. The simplest method to protect against pertussis is through vaccination. It will give your children immunity, thus saving him from unnecessary pain and suffering, and it also saves you from having to undergo the terrifying experience of watching your child suffer. When it comes to your children, it is better to be safe than sorry.

In Malaysia, infants are given the DTaP vaccine at 2, 3, and 5 months, followed by a booster dose at 18 months of age. Children receive Diphtheria and Tetanus (DT) vaccinations (but not the pertussis component) at 7 years of age. However, because the protective effects of the vaccine wear off after 4 to 12 years, children, adolescents and adults have to be re-vaccinated against the disease. It is advisable that they are vaccinated with the Tdap vaccine, which is a booster shot to reinforce immunity.

Adults, i.e. parents, grandparents, childcare providers and health professionals who come into close contact with babies are also advised to be vaccinated with the Tdap vaccine. If you are pregnant and want to be vaccinated against whooping cough, it is advisable to wait until the second or third trimester before getting the vaccination. It is always advisable to consult a doctor or paediatrician for the optimum time to get vaccinated. “Now that I know how serious an infection from pertussis can get, I will consider taking more precaution and the appropriate treatment in order to protect myself and my family from such diseases,” Mohammad Razlan vows.

Editors note

Adults can potentially infect babies with pertussis (whooping cough) as the immunity from childhood DTaP vaccines wanes in parents and care givers. Adults who are in contact with babies and healthcare professionals as well as day care centre workers should be given the adult Tdap (tetanus plus low dose diphtheria and pertussis) vaccine to prevent this from happening.

Do not ignore the primary DTaP vaccines for your children, and consider the other recommended vaccines too.

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