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Infant dies of whooping cough, third confirmed death this year in L.A. County, sixth in state

July 20, 2010 | 11:54 am

A third Los Angeles County infant has died of whooping cough, public health officials announced Tuesday.

The confirmation of the death -- the sixth pertussis-related death this year in the state -- comes a day after the California Department of Public Health expanded criteria for those who should be vaccinated against the highly contagious disease amid what is shaping up to be the worst outbreak in 50 years.

“This expanded set of recommendations is an appropriate response to the epidemic in Los Angeles County and statewide,” Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, the county’s public health director, said in a statement. “Vaccination is our best defense against pertussis. This is a disease that is especially dangerous for infants under six months of age, who are not old enough to have received the number of vaccine doses needed to be protected against whooping cough.”

So far this year, nearly 1,500 cases of whooping cough have been reported statewide, about 289 in Los Angeles County, including 184 laboratory-confirmed cases, officials said. All of those killed by the disease were infants.

Officials did not say how old the latest victim was, or when or where the death was reported.

Last year, 304 cases of whooping cough were reported statewide, including the deaths of three infants,  according to state public health officials. Slightly more than half the cases, 156, were reported in L.A. County, which had one of the deaths. 

In addition to the normal course of vaccines recommended for infants, state officials are now recommending vaccines for children age 7 and up, women of child-bearing age including those who are pregnant, those ages 65 and over and infant caregivers.

Early symptoms of whooping cough may be confused with a cold, and many do not develop the tell-tale “whooping” cough sound. Fielding urged those who suspect they might be ill to seek medical help immediately and ensure that their vaccines are up to date, especially if they live with or have contact with infants.

According to a recent study cited by L.A. County public health officials, when the source of an infant’s whooping cough infection could be identified, 41% contracted the disease from a sibling, 38% from their mother, and 17% from their father.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske
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