Baby dies of whooping cough in King County

SEATTLE (AP) - A newborn baby who died of whooping cough last week in King County was the first pertussis death in Washington since August 2011 and occurred even though the number of new cases in the epidemic is a tenth of last spring's rate.

The Seattle-King County Health Department withheld details about Thursday's death for the family's privacy, but said it's a reminder that mothers and family members should be immunized to protect babies from pertussis.

There have been 4,658 cases of the disease in Washington this year through Saturday, said state Health Department spokesman Tim Church. That's the highest number since 1941.

With that many cases it's almost surprising there hasn't been a death until now.

"It's tragic to have a death," Church said Tuesday. "But with this number of cases it's not unexpected."

There were a total of two pertussis deaths in Washington in 2011 and two in 2010.

Health Secretary Mary Selecky declared this year's outbreak an epidemic April 3 and the number of cases peaked in May at more than 250 a week. Since then the number of new cases declined to about 25 a week in December - still at an epidemic level and about twice what would be considered normal in previous years.

"We're glad to see it's dropping, but it's more than we want to see," Church said.

Whooping cough mostly affects children, and 57 percent of the 2012 cases have been in school-age children, ages 5 to 18, who typically have a chronic cough with the "whooping" sound.

The disease is most severe in infants. Some infants are unable to cough. They may turn bluish and have trouble feeding. Nearly 400 cases have been in children under the age of 1. Of those more than 70 were hospitalized, the Seattle-King County Health Department reported.