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Whooping cough diagnoses lagged in eight California deaths, analysis shows

The Los Angeles Times, September 7, 2010

A disturbing theme has emerged in an analysis of all eight cases of California infants who died from whooping cough this year: Despite the patients' multiple visits to clinics and hospitals, doctors typically failed to make a swift, accurate diagnosis.

"In several cases … the infants were treated only for nasal congestion or mild upper respiratory infection," Dr. John Talarico, an immunization official with the California Department of Public Health, wrote in a recent letter to healthcare providers statewide. "By the time these infants developed severe respiratory distress, it was usually too late for any intervention to prevent their tragic deaths."

Because whooping cough, also known as pertussis, can be hard to diagnose, health officials urged physicians to suspect the bacterial disease in any infant under 6 months of age who is having trouble breathing.