10-week-old infant dies of whooping cough in Jerusalem

Epidemiological investigation reveals mother, child not vaccinated against preventable disease; cases have increased 12-fold in past year, health authorities say

Illustrative: A newborn baby at the Shaare Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem, on October 29, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative: A newborn baby at the Shaare Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem, on October 29, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A 10-week-old infant in Jerusalem has died of whooping cough, the Health Ministry announced on Monday, days after warning of an alarming increase in cases in the capital and specifically among ultra-Orthodox communities where vaccination rates are lower than in other populations.

The newborn began showing symptoms of pertussis, known as whooping cough, at five weeks old and was hospitalized two weeks later. The baby had been unvaccinated against the disease and died last month, the ministry said.

Pertussis is a highly contagious but preventable disease caused by bacteria that spreads easily through coughing and sneezing. It is especially dangerous for babies, who can experience severe coughing and wheezing, among other symptoms like vomiting, fever, and a runny nose. In the worst cases, apnea (pauses in breathing), cyanosis (turning blue), and death can occur.

The disease is particularly dangerous for babies under six months of age.

An epidemiological study of the fatal case uncovered that the infant’s mother had not been vaccinated either, the Health Ministry said.

Vaccination against pertussis involves a series of shots beginning at age two months. Childhood pertussis vaccines end at 13, and adults are advised to get a booster shot after age 18 — especially medical students and healthcare workers. Pregnant women are strongly advised to receive the pertussis vaccination in their third trimester to provide protection for newborns until they can get their first dose.

Earlier this month, the Health Ministry said that there’s been a 12-fold increase of whooping cough cases in 2023 over the same period in 2022. The ministry said it has recorded at least 215 cases of pertussis in the first six months of 2023, up from just 17 cases in the first half of 2022.

The vast majority of the current cases are in Jerusalem and among Haredim. Nine cases were identified in the Tel Aviv area.

The Israel Pediatrics Association issued a letter on June 1 to Health Minister Moshe Arbel and Health Ministry General Director Moshe Bar Siman Tov urging them to urgently address the outbreak by sending mobile vaccination units to neighborhoods where fewer children are vaccinated against the disease.

The Israeli Midwives Association also issued a statement, advising all pregnant women in weeks 27-36 to get a pertussis vaccination.

“It is critical to get the vaccine toward the end of the pregnancy to protect the baby as it exits the womb into the air of the world. The protection is provided by the antibodies against whooping cough that pass through the placenta and protect the baby for the first four months of its life.”

“The vaccination is safe for both mother and baby,” the association emphasized.

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