Healthy Choices

Placer County infant dies of whooping cough

An infant in Placer County has died of whooping cough, public health officials said Wednesday.

It was only the second infant fatality from pertussis this year in California – the first being in Riverside County in Southern California.

Public health officials do not disclose the identity of individuals who die of communicable diseases, but they did confirm that the infant was less than 6 months old, the most vulnerable age for succumbing to whooping cough.

“It is a terrible tragedy for both the family and our community when a baby dies,” said Dr. Robert Oldham, Placer County’s public health officer.

Vaccinations for pregnant women, partners and caregivers can help prevent the spread of whooping cough, officials note. Infants then need to be vaccinated against whooping cough as soon as possible – after 6 months of age – to help build up more of a barrier against the disease.

Vaccinations are available at retail outlets, such as pharmacy chains, or at doctors’ offices.

Pertussis symptoms vary by age. In children, the disease may first show up as a runny nose and a cough for a couple of weeks. The cough worsens, and children may have rapid coughing spells that end with the characteristic whooping sound as they try to catch their breath.

“We can help prevent tragedies like these by vaccinating all pregnant women, ideally when they are between 27 and 36 weeks along in their pregnancies,” Oldham said.

It is not unusual for the cough to last up to 10 weeks in adults or children.

Research has shown the vaccinations are safe to the fetus and will help spread immunity to the infant.

“The other way we can prevent infant pertussis is for all of us to stay up to date on vaccinations,” Oldham said. “Everyone in our community who might come in close contact with a newborn baby should be vaccinated. That is just about all of us.”

Pertussis was thought to be nearly wiped out during the last half of the 20th century. Recently, however, as vaccination rates have gone down, pertussis and other communicable diseases have been reappearing.

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