Minnesota Department of Health officials have confirmed the first whooping cough-related death of a child since 2013.
The child died in November, after spending three months in the hospital having been diagnosed with pertussis in August 2019.
Whooping cough is particularly severe among infants, with the health department emphasizing the importance of vaccination during pregnancy, with the Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis) having been recommended during the third trimester of pregnancy since 2012.
"We were extremely saddened to hear that this child passed away,” said Kristen Ehresmann, director of infectious disease at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), in a news release.
"Pertussis continues to be a concern in Minnesota, and we want to do everything we can to prevent future tragedies like this."
The department says there were 25 cases of pertussis in babies less than 6 months old in the state last year, of which eight were hospitalized, and two of the cases were severe.
Ehresmann notes that babies with severe cases of pertussis often require lengthy hospital stays, with potentially months in the intensive care unit.
When a Tdap is administered during pregnancy, the mother's body creates antibodies that fight off the pertussis bacteria, and some of those antibodies are passed onto the baby, providing short-term protection until they're old enough to get their own shots.
But in Minnesota during 2018 and 2019, mothers had received the Tdap vaccine in only 18 out of the 41 cases of pertussis among infants less than 6 months old.
"We’re missing opportunities to vaccinate during pregnancy and protect vulnerable infants from a serious disease," said Ehresmann. "We are working with partners to make sure health care providers and pregnant women have the information they need to ensure on-time vaccination with this safe and effective vaccine."
Symptoms of pertussis start off like a typical cold, with sneezing, a runny nose and a cough, but the cough then becomes more severe after 1-2 weeks.
Babies and children can then cough so violently that the air is gone from their lungs, prompting them to inhale with the "whooping" sound for which it gets its name.