Pertussis, better known as whooping cough, has claimed the life of a Riverside County infant less than six months of age, the California Department of Public Health announced today. This is the first confirmed death from the disease since 2010.
“This tragic case illustrates that pertussis is and continues to be a serious threat to young infants,” warns Dr. Edward Moreno, Monterey County Health Officer. “It is important to remember that pertussis is preventable. I strongly encourage pregnant women to get vaccinated. Immunity developed by the mother during pregnancy is passed to the newborn infant. I also encourage parents to vaccinate their babies on time, which helps their babies strengthen their own immunity to pertussis. For infants, pertussis vaccinations typically start at two months of age, but adequate protection doesn’t occur until about six months of age.”
“I also urge adults that care for babies to receive their pertussis booster shot so that adults do not infect babies with pertussis,” says Dr. Moreno. Booster shots for pertussis are critical because neither the vaccine nor pertussis disease confers lifelong immunity.
Pertussis is cyclical with peaks in incidence occurring every 3 to 5 years. California experienced a pertussis epidemic in 2010 with more than 9,100 cases statewide; 10 deaths were reported. That’s more cases than had been reported in any year since the pre-vaccine era. After declining steadily from the peak in 2010, monthly case reports began increasing in mid-2013. Of the reported pertussis cases in California in 2013, 83 percent were children less than 18 years of age. Of those pediatric cases, 12 percent were infants less than six months of age.
In 2013, Monterey County Health Department confirmed 48 pertussis cases. In 2014 thus far, cases in Monterey County have already been confirmed. pertussis All (100 percent) were less than 18 years of age, and two (33 percent) were infants less than six months of age.
To avoid the spread of pertussis, the Monterey County Health Department recommends that:
- Pregnant women receive a pertussis vaccine booster during the third trimester of each pregnancy, even if they received the vaccine before.
- Infants be vaccinated against pertussis as soon as possible. The first dose is recommended at two months of age. Young children need five doses of pertussis vaccine by kindergarten (ages 4-6).
- 7th grade students in California receive the pertussis vaccine booster as required.
- Adults receive a pertussis vaccine booster, especially if they are in contact with infants or are healthcare workers who may have contact with infants or pregnant women.
The symptoms of pertussis vary by age. For children, a typical case of pertussis starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks. The cough then worsens and children may have rapid coughing spells that end with a whooping sound. Young infants may not have typical pertussis symptoms and may have no apparent cough. Parents may describe episodes in which the infant’s face turns red or purple and episodes in which the infant stops breathing. For adults, pertussis may simply be a cough illness that persists for several weeks.