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October 4, 2012

Bassett, new dads take aim at whooping cough

Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown is taking an innovative approach to slow the spread of whooping cough in the region by vaccinating new fathers.

“Young fathers oftentimes don’t get health care,” Dr. Chris Kjolhede, a pediatrician at the hospital said. “That’s an era of their lives where they don’t regularly see a physician. They may not have had an immunization against pertussis since they were in school. So, they are a likely target to immunize.”

And while they may not be especially threatened by the disease, the threat is real and potentially deadly for their newborn children.

“Infants are the ones that we’re most concerned about,” Kjolhede said. “That’s why we’re targeting dads at the birthing center, when they’re looking at this newborn baby and saying, ‘I’ll do anything to take care of this baby.’”

That’s the impetus for the hospital’s “Tdap for Dads,” program, in which new fathers will be offered the Tdap vaccine – a vaccine that also protects against tetanus and diphtheria.

Known medically as pertussis, whooping cough is a bacterial disease that can cause young children who haven’t completed their immunization cycle to stop breathing, Kjolhede said.

The symptoms including violent coughing fits, after which the victim often must gasp for air, resulting in the “whoop” sound that gives pertussis its common name.

“The sad thing about the disease is that it looks like a bad cold at the beginning, when (it’s) most infectious,” Kjolhede said.

Until now, new or expectant mothers who needed the vaccination received it during the prenatal process or during their hospital stays. Fathers, even when they expressed interest in receiving the immunization, were referred to their primary-care physicians. Now, they’ll be offered the vaccine at the hospital’s birthing center.

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