Pertussis claims life of Texas infant
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|Sun, 06-01-2003 - 11:49pm|
UNPROTECTED PEOPLE #55: PERTUSSIS CLAIMS LIFE OF TEXAS INFANT
The Immunization Action Coalition (IAC) publishes articles about
people who have suffered or died from vaccine-preventable diseases
and periodically devotes an "IAC EXPRESS" issue to such an article.
This is the 55th in our series.
On April 30, Serena Gabrielle King, age 27 days, succumbed to
whooping cough in Austin. She is the third person in Texas to die
from the disease this year. Texas, which has one of the lowest
rates of childhood immunization in the nation, has seen a startling
increase in the incidence of pertussis since 2000. Travis County,
where Austin is located, experienced one case in 2000, 54 in 2001,
and 111 in 2002.
Infants are particularly likely to contract the disease. According
to the "MMWR Summary of Notifiable Diseases," in the years 1999,
2000, and 2001, between 22 to 27 percent of pertussis cases reported
in the United States occurred in infants under 7 months of age. The
increased incidence of pertussis puts newborns like Serena at
considerable risk: Infants do not receive the first dose of DTaP
until 6 weeks to 2 months of age, leaving them extremely vulnerable
in the earliest weeks of life.
Following are a newspaper article as well as a letter to the editor,
written by Serena's grandfather. As both make clear, the only hope
of sparing other infants from Serena's fate lies in increasing
rates of childhood immunization.
The newspaper article, written by Mary Ann Roser, was published in
the "Austin American-Statesman" on May 7. We are grateful to the
"Austin American-Statesman" for permission to reprint it. The
letter to the editor, written by Troy Rickabaugh, was published
May 27 in the newspaper "Mineral Wells Index."
May 7, 2003
Too Young for Shot, Austin Infant Dies of Whooping Cough
By Mary Ann Roser
A month-old infant died of whooping cough last week in Austin, the
first such death in Travis County in years and a reminder that the
highly contagious disease is in the community and can kill babies.
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is on the upswing, and
Travis and Burnet counties were among the hardest hit in the state
last year. Officials at the Austin/Travis County Health and Human
Services Department investigated people who came in contact with
the baby--including students at Crockett High School, which the
mother attended, and the doctor's office where the disease went
undetected--but could not find the source of the whooping cough,
health department spokesman Bob Flocke said.
"We've exhausted all the leads and all the contacts," Flocke said
Monday. "We don't have anywhere else to go." The health department
sent a letter to teen parents of children in day care at the high
school, letting them know the pertussis exposure could have
occurred there, Flocke said.
Whooping cough starts with cold symptoms and often is spread by
older children or adults who do not get as severe a case or the
characteristic "whoop" that younger children get.
Lacee King, the baby's mother, said she hoped the loss of her
27-day-old daughter, Serena, would educate people, including the
medical community, about pertussis. Her daughter was not diagnosed
until just before her death. She also wants parents to be aware of
the importance of vaccinations. "I hope it can make people aware of
what can happen from not being vaccinated," said King, 16.
Serena King was too young for the vaccine, which is given at
2 months, 4 months and 6 months, with boosters at 18 months and
4 years. Someone who might not have been vaccinated could have
passed the disease to her. Texas ranks near the bottom of the
states in childhood vaccination rates. Some parents opt out of the
pertussis vaccine because of side effects, such as fever. The
vaccine is about 80 percent effective, though protection wanes as
the child ages.
Serena, born April 3, developed jaundice and cold symptoms about
two weeks after she was born, and King took her to Carousel
Pediatrics. The baby was seen by a nurse, who told King that her
child had normal nasal problems, King said.
When Serena began coughing and vomiting, King took her back and was
told her daughter had gastroesophageal reflux, a digestive problem,
King said. When the baby's condition worsened April 27, King and
her husband, Rickey King, rushed her to the hospital. A day later,
she was diagnosed with pertussis, and on Wednesday, she was dead.
"I think Carousel Pediatrics had a big part in this," Lacee King
Glenn Wood, the senior physician at Carousel, said pertussis is
hard to diagnose early on. Dozens of children come in every day
with coughs and runny noses, and it would not be feasible to test
every child for pertussis, he said. After reviewing Serena's chart
and records of her visits on April 16 and April 22, he said that
while his nursing staff treated the child, "There's not anything I
would have done differently based on what I'm seeing."
"It's a terrible, unfortunate case, but it illustrates how
important it is to get vaccinated," he said. "There are a lot of
kids behind on their vaccinations, and a lot can't get in to see
their doctor, especially kids on Medicaid and on CHIP," the
Children's Health Insurance Program.
For a long time, pertussis was seen as virtually eradicated. But in
recent years, it has made a comeback. Death rates in Texas have
risen from zero or one a year to five in 2001 and four in 2002,
said David Bastis, program manager in the immunization division at
the Texas Department of Health. So far this year, two deaths have
been reported in Texas. A check of records to 1990 showed no other
pertussis deaths in Travis County.
Why the increase in deaths statewide? "There's more pertussis out
there because of low immunization coverage and waning immunity in
adolescents and adults," Bastis said. "That increases the chance
that babies and infants will get pertussis." Last year, 111
pertussis cases were reported in Travis County, up from 54 in 2001
and one in 2000. There were 235 pertussis cases in Burnet County in
2002, more than any in Texas.
Troy Rickabaugh, Lacee King's father, called the newspaper about
his granddaughter's death in the hope of educating others about the
potentially deadly consequences of pertussis. "If we can save one
life," he said, "that would be wonderful."
May 27, 2003
Don't Let a Child Die over Lack of Immunizations
My beautiful granddaughter is dead.
Serena's death was totally preventable, but someone made a bad
decision not to get immunized for whooping cough.
Her mother, my daughter, went to all her prenatal doctor
appointments, watched her diet, took care of herself so she could
take care of her baby.
Serena was too young to even begin getting vaccinations, but you
can be assured she would have received all her shots on time. All
the love and caring our family gave Serena ultimately made no
difference because someone else chose not to be immunized.
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a totally preventable disease. But
only if everyone lives by the Golden Rule and does the right thing.
No one has the right to make a decision for himself that can hurt
others. And that's what happens when all children are not
immunized. Their parents make the wrong decision, and someone
else's child gets hurt!
Serena lived 27 days in the loving arms of her family. She died
because someone in the community did not get immunized.
You can do something to make sure other families don't suffer the
pain we are suffering. You can get immunized. And you can ask your
state senator to support two bills pending in the Texas Senate:
HB 1920 and HB 1921. One bill calls for the Texas Department of
Health to keep a database that doctors can use to see if a child
needs to be immunized. The other provides vaccines for children who
don't have the insurance coverage to pay for the immunizations.
Please, don't let another Serena die needlessly.
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