“Riley was a perfectly healthy new-born baby and, like most new parents, we were absolutely delighted,” says Greg Hughes, Riley’s father. Then whooping cough “hit us from nowhere.”
Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is a life-threatening disease causing coughing spasms and inflammation in the nose and throat.
Infants are at the highest risk of dying from pertussis although older people can also be infected.
What causes pertussis?
Pertussis is caused by a bacterium called Bordetella pertussis. It is a highly contagious respiratory infection spread by contact with people in the coughing phase of the disease.
The vast majority of deaths associated with pertussis occur in infants aged less than a year.
Pregnant women can have a safe and effective vaccine against pertussis. This prevents them from becoming ill and passes protection on to their babies.
Their young son was infected by whooping cough or pertussis in his first week of life. He was too young to be vaccinated and the bacterium that causes the illness was circulating in their Western Australia community.
“My son went from being a perfectly healthy baby on day one, to day five where he was suffering from significant breathing difficulties. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and his heart failed as a result,” says Greg.
What Greg and Catherine did not know during Catherine’s pregnancy was that women can have a vaccine during each of their pregnancies which reduces the risk of whooping cough infection.
This vaccine provides protection to the new-born baby by passing on antibodies.
The Hughes family say they would encourage any pregnant mother to get the pertussis booster vaccine. “The evidence is there – it’s safe and it works,” says Greg.
“Watching Riley suffer from the disease that ultimately took his life is something that will remain with me forever. I urge all parents to be to go out and get the vaccine.”
The couple set up a Facebook page – Light for Riley – which has more than 73,000 ‘likes’. They have also raised more than AUS$57,000 for the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation in support of the hospital where their son died.