Emmy-winner Sarah Michelle Gellar joins pertussis campaign

Sarah Michelle Gellar, an Emmy Award winning actress, recently joined the March of Dimes and Sanofi Pasteur for a campaign that will educate adults on stopping the spread of pertussis to infants.

Gellar, a mother of two, will be a part of the Sounds of Pertussis campaign to help raise awareness of pertussis, also known as whooping cough. Pertussis cases are on the rise in the U.S. and infants and young children could be the most vulnerable.

"The reality is that parents, grandparents and other family members may unknowingly spread pertussis to the babies in their lives," Gellar said. "That's why I was vaccinated and so was my family to help protect ourselves and to help stop the spread of the disease to my two children. Now, as the National Sounds of Pertussis Campaign Ambassador I'm urging adults everywhere to do the same."

March of Dimes, a leading nonprofit organization for baby health, and Sanofi Pasteur, a global healthcare company, announced Gellar's participation in the campaign on Wednesday.

Gellar is encouraging parents to use the campaign's new Facebook application, called the Breathing Room, that lets parents send a message to family and friends in their Facebook network asking them to be vaccinated before meeting the newborn in their life. Parents can use the app to keep track of who in their child's circle of care has been or pledges to be vaccinated against the potentially fatal disease.

"Immunity from early childhood pertussis vaccinations wears off after about five to 10 years, meaning even adults who were immunized as children may no longer be protected," Siobhan Dolan, a medical advisor to March of Dimes, said. "The best way for adults to help protect themselves and to help prevent the spread of the disease is to ensure they are vaccinated."

Pertussis is highly contagious and can be serious, particularly in young children. In 2012, there were more than 41,000 reported cases of pertussis and 18 deaths in the U.S. More than 83 percent of deaths occurred in infants under the age of 12 months.

Infants are vulnerable to pertussis because they don't receive vaccinations until two months of age and are not fully protected until they get three vaccine doses. Parents were responsible for spreading pertussis as much as 50 percent of the time.