Sarah Michelle Gellar: How to Protect Your Baby From Pertussis

You do the most you can to keep your baby healthy and safe. You ask people to wash their hands before holding them. You feed them the healthiest food. But did you know that there's one big thing you should be doing to protect your baby? Make sure parents, grandparents, and older children have gotten their booster shots to protect against whooping cough, a highly contagious disease that can be deadly for young infants, says actress Sarah Michelle Gellar, who is a a spokesperson for Sounds of Pertussis.

Pertussis is the germ that causes whooping cough, and there have been a big rise in cases in recent years due to a combination of factors, including waning immunity and inadequate vaccination. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 48,000 cases of pertussis in the United States, the most cases in 50 years.

Many adults and grandparents are unaware that their booster shots wane over time (between 5-10 years), so they don’t necessarily know that they need an extra immunity boost, too. “When they trace back how a child got it, 80% of the time it comes from the direct family member,” Gellar says. “And 50% of the time it comes from the parent. You could potentially be coughing on your child, and it could potentially be fatal.”

Pertussis is highly contagious and can cause a cough so severe children may throw up or struggle so hard to breath their lungs make a "whooping" noise as they try to inhale between coughing bouts. Most children get vaccinated (pertussis is the "P" in the DPT shot), but infants don't get their first dose until 2 months of age. And unfortunately, babies are the most vulnerable to the germ (there were 18 pertussis-related deaths in 2012, most in babies under 3 months).

That's why it's so important to protect them by making sure vaccines are up-to-date for all the people around them, says Gellar. “It’s not necessarily the forefront of conversation,” Gellar said. “I am fortunate that I have a doctor that I’m extremely close with and brought it up to me. “

Gellar teamed up with March of Dimes and a vaccine company to create the Sounds of Pertussis website, so parents can recognize what a pertussis cough sounds like. (There is also a Facebook app called the Breathing Room, where you can find local healthcare facilities that provide pertussis vaccinations.)

Gellar and her mother, Rosellen Gellar, have also teamed up to launch the website Grandparents' Corner, a place for grandparents to easily find information on pertussis and make sure they’re protected so that they don't accidentally spread the bacteria to a grandchild.

Gellar, an Emmy Award winning actress and mother is also making headlines for her come-back role in the new TV comedy show, “The Crazy Ones,” where she co-stars with Robin Williams. The show premieres tonight at 9|8c on CBS.

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