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County Health Officials Say Infant Died Of Whooping Cough

A new-born baby died Tuesday in a San Diego hospital from whooping cough. Seven babies have died in California since January from the illness, now an epidemic in the state.

Pertussis cases reported in San Diego County from January through July 2009 and 2010. (SOURCE: SD County HHSA)
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Above: Pertussis cases reported in San Diego County from January through July 2009 and 2010. (SOURCE: SD County HHSA)

Health Officials say the disease affects people of all ages, but is most deadly for infants. Whooping cough or pertussis is an upper respiratory disease. In older children and adults it resembles a cold with a bad cough. But in babies, it attacks quickly and sometimes silently.

Dr. Elizabeth Rosenblum is a family doctor with UCSD. She says babies don't always have a cough with the illness.

β€œIt’s usually deceivingly mild and it can go from a mild respiratory infection to severe very quickly,” Rosenblum says.

Whooping cough can be prevented with a vaccine. Babies under six months are too young to be fully immunized against the illness.

There have been nearly 300 cases of whooping cough in the county so far this year – almost four times the number compared to this time last year.

Prior report from City News Service:

A month-old baby boy, who had been diagnosed with whooping cough, died at a San Diego hospital, county health officials announced today.

The baby died Tuesday at Rady Children's Hospital, according to the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency. The last whooping cough death in San Diego County was in 2001.

"This death is a tragedy for the family and the broader community,'' said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the county's deputy public health officer.

The death is a reminder to parents to get themselves and their children vaccinated, said Dr. Mark Sawyer, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Rady Children's Hospital.

"Infants are most vulnerable to complications from this disease because they are too young to get vaccinated," he said. "That's why vaccinating caregivers is a priority. By protecting yourself from the disease, you also protect your baby."

Health officials said the number of whooping cough cases in San Diego County so far this year is nearly double the level for all of 2009, and is on track to set a new record.

So far this year, there have been 266 cases of whooping cough locally, compared to 143 last year, according to the HHSA.

The number is on course to break the record of 371 cases of whooping cough set in 2005, health officials said.

Fifteen infants have been hospitalized locally with whooping cough, also known as pertussis, according to the HHSA. This is the first fatality reported by the county.

Whooping cough is highly contagious, and infants and young children are particularly vulnerable. The disease usually starts with flu-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing, fever and a mild cough.

The symptoms may be mild and brief, or last up to two weeks, but are often followed by severe coughing fits that may be associated with vomiting, according to the HHSA.

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