Snohomish County infant dies of whooping cough

  • By Sharon Salyer Herald Writer
  • Thursday, August 18, 2011 6:14pm
  • Local News

An infant from east Snohomish County died earlier this week from whooping cough, what is believed to be the first local death from the disease in more than a decade.

The baby died on Tuesday and was less than a month old, according to Snohomish Health District officials.

“Truly our hearts go out to this family,” Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District, said Thursday. It’s hard for a family ever to lose a child, he said, but a death is especially hard in what had been a healthy newborn.

Although the DTaP vaccine protects against whooping cough, the baby was too young to get it, he said. The immunization also protects against tetanus and diphtheria.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a disease that “we all as a community could prevent” through widespread vaccination of youth and adults, Goldbaum said. “That, to me, is the greatest tragedy.”

Goldbaum sent an alert to physicians throughout the county Thursday afternoon announcing the infant’s death and asking them to be vigilant in treating patients who are coughing.

“There are lots of things that can cause a cough,” he said. “But everyone needs to be thinking: ‘Could this be pertussis?'”

The vaccine is administered at 2, 4, and 6 months of age; a fourth dose is administered between 12 and 18 months, and a fifth after age 4.

Teens get a shot between 11 and 18 years of age. Another dose is recommended after age 19, because the immunity provided by the vaccine wanes over the years.

A national health committee on immunizations is advising a change on when women who are pregnant should get the vaccine. Currently, it’s administered after delivery, which is what happened in the case in the mother whose infant just died, Goldbaum said.

Instead, the committee is now recommending that pregnant women be immunized prior to their delivery, he said.

Health officials say anyone who has contact with pregnant women or infants under 12 months of age should get a booster shot.

The Snohomish County infant died at a Seattle hospital. The public health agency learned about the infant’s illness on Aug. 5, but didn’t know about the hospitalization until the day before the baby died, he said.

This is the second whooping cough death in Washington this year. The first occurred in April in Yakima County and also involved a baby, said Donn Moyer, a spokesman for the state Department of Health.

The Snohomish County infant is one of 52 whooping cough cases confirmed in the county so far this year. That’s more than double the number of confirmed cases during all of 2010.

Of the 52 confirmed cases this year, eight were infants younger than 1 year old; eight were 1-5 years old, 19 were between 6-17; and 17 were adults.

The cases have been reported from throughout the county, health officials said.

“What we’ve witnessed is a significant rise in the number of cases during the last part of 2010 and the first half of this year,” Goldbaum said.

There’s been a dramatic increase in the number of whooping cough cases on the West Coast, he said. Last year, whooping cough was so widespread in California that it was declared an epidemic.

Small children and infants are especially at risk for severe illness from whooping cough.

Initially, its symptoms are similar to those of a cold, with runny nose, sneezing and a mild cough.

Whooping cough symptoms worsen over the next two weeks. Coughs can become severe, sometimes causing coughing spasms, a whooping sound or even vomiting.

Any child or adult who has been coughing for more than two weeks should call their health care provider to see if the family should be tested for whooping cough, Goldbaum said.

More than 600 cases of whooping cough were reported in Washington last year — nearly three quarters of which where among children 18 and under.

At Seattle Children’s Hospital, 35 patients were hospitalized for whooping cough in the past year.

Whooping cough cases periodically rise and fall. Nationally, up to 25,000 cases are reported each year. In Snohomish County, the number has ranged from a high of 95 cases in 2003 to a low of 21 in 2006.

Whidbey Island had an outbreak in July 2008, when 65 people were sickened, most between the ages of 7 and 13.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or

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