Whooping Cough Outbreak in California Kills Two

Whooping cough, AKA pertussis, on the rise in CA

If you’ve ever spoken to a mother who has lost a child, you will never forget what she has to say. Mariah Bianchi is such a mother, and she wants you to know why you need to get the pertussis vaccination. Not just for your child, but for you, and anyone who comes into contact with your child.

Her message comes just as the CA Dept. of Public Health is warning people to get vaccinated. Health officials say 2010 is shaping up to be a "peak" year for pertussis, aka whooping cough. The highly contagious disease can be deadly in infants, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

Since the start of this year, 219 people have contracted pertussis, and two have died. Both deaths were infants, under 3 months old. One in L.A. county and the other in Fresno county. It's an alarming number, health leaders say, because at this time last year, there were only 118 cases statewide.

The last peak year was 2005, when 3182 people contracted pertussis. 7 died. A beautiful baby boy named Dylan Cruz Bianchi was one of them.

Mariah Bianchi says she had a runny nose and forceful cough that triggered her labor 2 weeks early. But when Dylan was born, he was healthy and alert. Bianchi asked her doctors about her cold symptoms, worried that she might pass them to Dylan. But she was told she couldn't have pertussis, that it was likely just a cold.

3 and a half weeks later, Dylan became lethargic. Too tired to eat. His parents rushed him to the hospital, where he never recovered.

"Every hour after that he got sicker and sicker. Basically his immune system started failing. His kidney function failed. He started to develop heart failure. In 36 hours they were doing CPR. We didn't have a lot of choice. It took two days. It was so fast," says Mariah.

Father David Bianchi says, "We had a healthy baby. There was nothing out of the ordinary but pertussis came in and took our son away from us."

The CDPH's autopsy showed Dylan died of pertussis that he contracted from his mother. All it took was a single breath.

Mariah, an ICU nurse about to earn a Master's degree at UCSF in health policy, says she wishes someone would've told her to get a pertussis booster. Most of us receive the vaccines as children, but they wear off by middle school. Healthy adults who contract pertussis rarely die; they typically suffer from 90 days of cold symptoms. But when those adults are around infants and children, they can easily spread pertussis.

"This is going on 5 years for us and I don't know if it ever hurts any less but you try to make differences and the fact it's coming back is really concerning to me. To hear about other people who are losing their children that are too young to vaccinate...These babies that are les than 3 months old that are dying never have a chance and it's up to the people around them to protect them.To do that they need to get vaccinated," says Mariah.

The Bianchi's 8 year old son Cole often talks about his baby brother Dylan. He recently included him a family tree project at school. The Bianchis say they will always keep Dylan's memory alive, not only for their family, but they hope, to help save other lives.

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