Local Infant Dies from Pertussis

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A 5-week-old San Diego infant died on July 15 from pertussis, also known as whooping cough, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency announced today.

The death of the previously healthy infant is the second from the highly contagious respiratory disease in California this year, and the first in San Diego since 2010.

To date in 2016, 164 pertussis cases have been confirmed in San Diego, compared to 621 cases at the same time last year.  There were 892 cases in San Diego in 2015. Pertussis was epidemic throughout California in 2014, when a record 2,105 cases were confirmed in San Diego. Pertussis is cyclical and peaks every three to five years.

“Young infants are at greatest risk of hospitalization and death from pertussis,” said Wilma J. Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “Although the number of cases in our region has declined, this tragic death reminds us how important it is that everyone takes steps to prevent pertussis, including getting vaccinated.”

Wooten said it’s critical for pregnant women and people who come into close contact with young infants to get vaccinated. Newborns are very susceptible to whooping cough because they are too young to be fully vaccinated. It is vital for pregnant women to be vaccinated in the third trimester to give protection to their unborn infants.

A typical case of pertussis starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks, followed by weeks to months of rapid coughing fits that sometimes end with a whooping sound. Fever, if present, is usually mild. Antibiotics can lessen the severity of symptoms and prevent the spread of the disease to others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following pertussis vaccination schedule:

  • Young children need five doses of DTaP by kindergarten: at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years.
  • All students entering 7th grade need proof of a whooping cough booster immunization (Tdap).
  • A Tdap booster is recommended for pregnant women during their third trimester of each pregnancy, even if they got a booster before becoming pregnant. The best time to get the shot is between the 27th and the 36th week of pregnancy.
  • One dose of Tdap is recommended for adults 19 years of age and older who did not get Tdap as an adolescent.

Parents can obtain the DTaP vaccine series and the Tdap booster shot for themselves and their children through their primary care physicians. Local retail pharmacies offer vaccinations for a fee, and anyone who is not covered by a medical insurance plan can get the shot from a County Public Health Center at minimal or no cost.

For more information about whooping cough and ongoing vaccination clinics, call the HHSA Immunization Branch at (866) 358-2966, or visit


Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact