Whooping cough claims life of infant

Whooping cough claimed the life of a San Diego infant this week, officials announced today.

Five-week-old Elias Carrillo died Tuesday evening in an intensive care unit at Rady Children’s Hospital, according to the county Medical Examiner’s Office.

The last local death attributed to pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, was in 2001.

“This death is a tragedy for the family and the broader community,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, county deputy public health officer.

The death of the baby boy, who was born June 22, is a reminder to parents to get themselves and their children vaccinated, said Dr. Mark Sawyer, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital.

“Infants are most vulnerable to complications from this disease because they are too young to get vaccinated,” he said. “That’s why vaccinating caregivers is a priority. By protecting yourself from the disease, you also protect your baby.”

Health officials said the number of whooping cough cases in the county so far this year is nearly double the level for all of 2009, and is on track to set a new record.

So far this year, there have been 266 cases of whooping cough locally, compared to 143 last year, according to the county Health and Human Services Agency.

The number is on course to break the record of 371 cases of whooping cough set in 2005, officials said.

Fifteen infants have been hospitalized locally for treatment of pertussis, according to the HHSA. Elias’ death was the first fatality reported by the county.

Whooping cough is highly contagious, and infants and young children are particularly vulnerable. The disease usually starts with flu-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing, fever and a mild cough.

The symptoms may be mild and brief or last up to two weeks, but are often followed by severe coughing fits that may be associated with vomiting, according to the HHSA.