Doctors Misdiagnosed in all Cases of Infant Death From Whooping Cough

An analysis of the eight cases of infant deaths from whooping cough in California shows that all the babies who eventually died of the bacterial infection were taken to clinics and hospitals multiple times before an accurate diagnosis was made, says the Los Angeles Times today.

The babies were treated for minor colds and nasal congestion and when the diagnosis was finally made, it was too late. In a couple of cases, once the bacteria was identified, medical teams still didn’t act aggressively enough.

The epidemic of whooping cough continues to be on the upswing, according to public health officials, and with school starting it is predicted to get worse, with children sharing and passing bacteria more readily.

Why would this happen, and what are we supposed to do about it?

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a hard diagnosis to make, says a UCLA pediatrics professor in the LA Times article. The babies can have a runny nose and cough, but no fever–they don’t look very sick. The thing that distinguishes the whooping cough from a common cold is the difficulty breathing–coughing so hard that the child makes a “whooping” sound drawing air back in.

The public health officials said any doctor who suspects whooping cough should act quick (which usually means testing for the bacteria and prescribing antibiotics). All the babies who died were under three months old, and young infants are more at risk because of their immature immune systems.

The other question on the table is, if the cases of pertussis continue to rise, will schools make vaccination a requirement for attendance?

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