Many U.S. adults are not up to date on their whooping cough vaccinations, putting vulnerable babies at risk of the potentially deadly disease, according to a new survey.

The number of whooping cough (Pertussis) cases is increasing in the United States. In 2012, over 41,000 kids and adults were affected by the disease, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rates are at their highest level in 50 years.

After seeing the rise in the number of cases during 2012, the Public Health Agency (PHA) said that pregnant women and the parents of young kids should make sure they are up to date on their whooping cough immunizations.

“[Whooping cough] is a very preventable disease, but many adults may think their childhood vaccinations still are protecting them against it,” Dr. Matthew Davis, director of the new University of Michigan National Poll on Children’s Health, said to HealthDay.

“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,” Davis added.

Only 20% of adults said they had received the pertussis vaccine less than 10 years ago, while 19% said they were vaccinated over a decade ago. The majority (61%) of the participants did not know when they were last vaccinated.

According to the survey, 72% of participants strongly agreed or agreed that parents have the right to require that people should receive the whooping cough vaccine before visiting a newborn in the hospital.

Sixty-one percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that parents should make sure all adults are given the vaccine before visiting a newborn at home.

Whooping cough can easily spread within day care facilities, schools, households, and neighborhoods.

Children younger than 3 months old account for the majority of deaths from whooping cough, and most infants who get whooping cough are infected by an older child or adult with the disease.

A 2009 report showed that children whose parents won’t let them be vaccinated are 23 times more likely to get whooping cough compared to kids who are fully immunized.
br> According to HealthDay, Davis said:

“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.”

The results from the survey are encouraging because they point to some awareness that visitors need to be protected against this disease.

Davis concluded:

“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.

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].”

Written by Sarah Glynn