WEDNESDAY, June 19, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Whooping cough cases are escalating in the United States, and many American adults are unknowingly exposing vulnerable babies to the potentially deadly disease because their vaccinations are not up to date, a new survey finds.
"[Whooping cough] is a very preventable disease, but many adults may think their childhood vaccinations still are protecting them against it," said Dr. Matthew Davis, director of the new University of Michigan National Poll on Children's Health. "Findings from this poll show that few adults have received a booster shot within the recommended 10-year time frame and, in fact, two-thirds told us they were not aware of their vaccination status."
Just 20 percent of adults said they'd received the whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine less than 10 years ago, while 19 percent said they were vaccinated more than 10 years ago and 61 percent said they did not know when they were last vaccinated.
The poll also found that 72 percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that parents have the right to insist that visitors receive the whooping cough vaccine before visiting a newborn in the hospital. And 61 percent of survey participants strongly agreed or agreed that parents should make sure all adults receive the vaccine before visiting a newborn at home.
Whooping cough easily spreads within households, day care facilities, schools and neighborhoods. Most deaths from whooping cough occur in children younger than 3 months old, and most infants who get whooping cough are infected by an older child or adult with the illness.
"Teens and adults who have received the [whooping cough] vaccine are less likely to get whooping cough themselves, and therefore less likely to spread whooping cough to other people, including infants who have not yet been protected by the recommended [whooping cough] vaccinations," Davis said.
The poll results are encouraging because they indicate some awareness that visitors need to be protected against this disease, Davis said in a university news release.
"Expectant parents should have a conversation about [whooping cough] vaccine with their family and close friends before the baby is born, to allow time for them to get their [whooping cough] vaccine up to date," he said. "If parents begin to take this approach, it may have a very positive impact decreasing the number of newborns who become severely ill or die as a result of [whooping cough]."
Whooping cough recently reached its highest level in the United States in 50 years. The disease can be serious or fatal in unvaccinated newborns.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about whooping cough.