TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Health officials are reminding parents to protect their children against whooping cough after a Placer County infant died recently due to complications from the disease.
The infant was less than 6 months old, according to the Placer County Department of Health and Human Services.
When asked where the death occurred, Dr. Robert Oldham, the county’s public health officer, declined to provide a location in an effort to “balance the privacy of the family.”
“I can tell you (the death) is not associated with any outbreak,” Oldham said. “If there was ever a public health issue, we would give a location to warn the public ... but in this instance, it’s isolated.”
It’s the first confirmed fatality from whooping cough, also known as pertussis, in Placer County in several years, according to the health department, and the second death in California this year. A Riverside County infant died in February after several weeks of illness.
“It is a terrible tragedy for both the family and our community when a baby dies,” Oldham said.
‘COMES IN WAVES’
California experienced a pertussis epidemic in 2010, when more than 9,100 cases, including 10 deaths, were reported. After declining steadily, monthly case reports began increasing in mid-2013.
Placer County has seen 34 cases so far this year, Oldham said, with “the vast majority” occurring outside the Tahoe region.
“That’s pretty high for Placer County compared to our historical norm,” he said. “... Every three years or so it comes in waves, partly because we have lower vaccination rates than elsewhere in the state.”
Of reported cases last year in California, 83 percent were for children younger than 18 years. Of those pediatric cases, 12 percent were infants less than 6 months.
Considering that, booster shots are critical, Oldham said, because, unlike some other vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, “neither pertussis nor its vaccine confers lifelong immunity.”
“We can help prevent tragedies like these by vaccinating all pregnant women, ideally when they are between 27 and 36 weeks along in their pregnancies,” said Oldham, adding that immunity developed against pertussis is passed to infants and helps protect them until they’re old enough to be vaccinated.
Locally, the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District hasn’t seen any pertussis issues this year, said Corine Harvey, executive director of student services.
TTUSD operates on a “no shots, no school policy,” she said, and adheres to that by regularly reminding parents about pre-kindergarten and seventh-grade vaccinations.
In a law that became effective January 2014, California Assembly Bill 2109 requires parents who exclude children from immunization requirements to submit a signed statement from a health care provider that they received information about benefits and risks of vaccines.
For the 2013-14 school year at TTUSD, Harvey said roughly 10 percent of students or less have signed forms.
Further, should an outbreak of whooping cough, chicken pox or another vaccinated disease occur that may impact a TTUSD campus, students on the exempt list are excluded from attending school.
Whooping cough symptoms vary. For children, a typical case starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks. The cough worsens, and children may have rapid coughing spells that end with a whooping sound.
Young infants may not have typical pertussis symptoms and may have no apparent cough. Parents may describe episodes in which the infant’s face turns red or purple.
For adults, pertussis may simply be a cough illness that persists for several weeks.
To avoid its spread, the Placer health department recommends:
• Pregnant women receive a pertussis vaccine booster during the third trimester of each pregnancy, even if they received it before.
• Infants get vaccinated against pertussis as soon as possible. The first dose is routinely recommended at 2 months, but if pertussis is circulating in the community, infants can be vaccinated as young as 6 weeks. Young children need five doses of pertussis vaccine by kindergarten (ages 4-6).
• California seventh-grade students receive the pertussis vaccine booster as required.
• Adults receive a pertussis vaccine booster, especially if they are in contact with infants or are health care workers who may have contact with infants or pregnant women.