Minnesota health officials stress prevention after infant dies of whooping cough

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 07: A bottle of the whooping cough vaccine, Boostrix, sits in the nurse's office at Mark Twain Middle School August 7, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The boosters, also called Tdap shots, are required of all seventh graders (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Minnesota health officials are stressing the importance of vaccination after an infant died of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, in November.

According to the health department, the infant was diagnosed with pertussis in August 2019 and died in November after being hospitalized for three months. The last pediatric death related to pertussis in Minnesota was in 2013.

Health officials report that anyone can get pertussis, but it is most severe in infants. Preliminary data for 2019 shows there were 25 cases of pertussis in infants less than 6 months old in Minnesota. Of those, eight were hospitalized, and two of the hospitalized cases were severe.  

Health officials are emphasizing the importance of vaccination, especially during pregnancy, to help prevent pertussis. The tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis--or Tdap--vaccine is recommended during the third trimester of each pregnancy. 

Experts say 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.

In 2018 and 2019, Minnesota had 41 cases of pertussis among infants less than 6 months of age. Upon review, only 18, or 44 percent, of the mothers received the Tdap vaccine during pregnancy.

Many infants who get pertussis are infected by older siblings, parents or other caregivers. These people often do not know they have the disease because symptoms can be less severe in adolescents and adults.