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In First for Santa Barbara County, Infant Dies of Whooping Cough

A 3-week-old infant has died from whooping cough, the first such fatality recorded in Santa Barbara County, public health officials announced Tuesday.

The child was 25 days old at the time of death, and the department issued a statement Tuesday extending sympathy to the family who "lost a child whose life had just begun."

The infant contracted the disease from a close contact, an adult who had not received the vaccine, said Dr. Charity Thoman of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.

The county has seen a large jump in cases from 2013 to 2014 — from 28 to 113 — and California is also seeing numbers that bring the outbreak to epidemic levels.

Health officials expect a peak in the number of cases every three to five years as the effectiveness of booster shots wanes, "but we have never seen a number of cases like we did in 2014," Thoman said.

It's the highest number of cases the county has seen in the 70 years since the vaccine for the cough was developed.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is preventable, and the department is using the death to warn the public about the dangers of not receiving the immunization.

The baby had been hospitalized but perished in spite of "physicians making every effort to save its life," she said.

Whooping cough can develop quickly, and babies don't have the classic tell-tale cough that adults have and instead can suddenly stop breathing, Thoman said.

"They may never have symptoms and can get very sick and die very quickly," she said.

Infants younger than 2 months old are too young to vaccinate, so the concept of "coccooning" — making sure adults and caretakers around the child are vaccinated — becomes critical.

Pregnant women should also receive the vaccine during their pregnancy so they pass antibodies on to the baby.

Children are immunized for whooping cough starting at 2 months and throughout a series of shots until they are 5 years old, and boosters are also needed throughout a person's life.

"These diseases are very serious, they kill children," Thoman said, adding that the decision not to immunize children is a harmful one. "It's a very selfish decision because it affects the entire community."

Patients of the Public Health Department can receive immunizations at any of the county clinics, and local pharmacies also offer the vaccination. Patients can also contact their primary care doctors for the shot.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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