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Health Officials Urge Pregnant Women to Get Vaccinated After Baby Dies From Whooping Cough

Photograph by Twenty20

Officials in San Bernardino County, California, confirmed this week that a baby under 6 months of age has died from whooping cough.

Outbreaks have been occurring in the state every three to five years, according to health officials, but this is the first time since 2016 that a baby has died from the disease.

The grievous news led to immediate action from authorities. San Bernardino County health officials issued a warning to pregnant women, urging them to get the Tdap booster vaccine (for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis/whooping cough) to help protect newborns against the disease until they are old enough to receive their first whooping cough vaccination series (DTaP) at 2 months of age.

“This infant’s death is a tragedy for the family and our community,” San Bernardino Health Officer Dr. Maxwell Ohikhuare wrote. “My sincerest condolences are extended to the family at this difficult time.”

The statement, which supports the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists's (ACOG) new immunization guide, recommends that pregnant women get vaccinated with Tdap at every pregnancy between 27-37 weeks. The public warning also addressed the immunization needs of newborns, stating that parents should vaccinate their children at the 2-month mark, with kids ultimately receiving a total of five doses of the DTaP vaccine by the time they are in kindergarten (age 4-6).

Health officials recommend that pregnant women get vaccinated with Tdap at every pregnancy between 27-37 weeks.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious disease affecting the lungs that parents, older siblings and caregivers can pass onto babies without even knowing they’re infected. In fact, this seemingly harmless cough carries so much power that nearly half of babies younger than 1 year old who get it end up in the hospital, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some patients even turn blue from lack of oxygen, and in rare cases like this, a child may even die.

Early symptoms of whooping cough are similar to a common cold. Your child might start out with a runny nose, congestion, sneezing and a mild cough or mild fever. After one to two weeks, however, the cough might worsen due to thick mucus in the airways, resulting in a "coughing spell" or cluster of rapid coughing that ends in a whooping sound, which can lead to vomiting or exhaustion for those who don't have the energy to keep coughing.

Another startling fact is that some infants, younger than 12 months, do not exhibit a cough. Instead, their primary symptom might be substituted by temporary pauses in breathing.

Though anyone can become infected with the disease, babies (and seniors) are the ones most at risk. Parents unfamiliar with the eerie, high-pitched wheeze of an infant "whooping" between breaths can listen to it here.

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