ST. PAUL — An infant who was diagnosed with pertussis, also known as whooping cough, died in November after being hospitalized for three months, Minnesota health officials said Wednesday, Jan. 8.
The last infant in Minnesota to die from complications after a pertussis-related diagnosis was in 2013, the Minnesota Department of Health said in a news release. The health department did not disclose the residence of the infant.
“We were extremely saddened to hear that this child passed away,” said Kristen Ehresmann, director of infectious disease at the state health department. “Pertussis continues to be a concern in Minnesota, and we want to do everything we can to prevent future tragedies like this.”
Preliminary data for 2019 shows there were 25 cases of pertussis in infants less than 6 months old in Minnesota. The condition can affect anyone but is most severe in infants, the health department said. Of those 25 cases, eight were hospitalized and two were deemed severe cases.
“Infants who get pertussis can get very sick and many need to be hospitalized,” Ehresmann said. “The severe cases often require lengthy hospital stays with weeks to months in an intensive care unit. It can be devastating for the family.”
Pregnant mothers are urged to receive a vaccination for their unborn child, the health department said. The tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis, or Tdap, vaccine is recommended during the third trimester of each pregnancy. This recommendation has been around since 2012.
In 2018 and 2019, Minnesota had 41 cases of pertussis among infants less than 6 months of age. Only 18 of the mothers received Tdap during pregnancy.
Ehresmann said that when the Tdap vaccine is given during pregnancy, the mother’s body creates antibodies to fight off the pertussis bacteria. Some of those antibodies are passed to the baby before birth and offer short-term protection until the baby can start to receive their own vaccines.
Health officials say many infants who get pertussis are affected by older siblings, parents or others close to the baby as it is spread by coughing or sneezing. Oftentimes, those people do not know they have the disease because it can be less severe in adolescents and adults, the health department said.
There are two pertussis vaccines, and your age determines when you get each vaccine. The diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis, or DTaP vaccine, is given to children starting at age 2 months. The Tdap vaccine is given to adolescents at age 11-12 years and adults.
While there's still a chance vaccinated recipients can still come down with pertussis, its likely they will have a milder disease.
The first symptoms of pertussis are similar to a cold: sneezing, a runny nose, possibly a slight fever, and a cough. After one or two weeks, the cough becomes more severe. Infants and children with pertussis can cough violently until the air is gone from their lungs and they’re forced to inhale with a loud “whooping” sound. The coughing fits usually last from one to six weeks, but can go on for 10 weeks or more, the health department said.