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Whooping cough still with us, still dangerous

Two days after her second son, Dylan, was born in 2005, Mariah Bianchi let out yet another deep-chested cough, this time in the hospital, where she was recovering from the delivery.

She had been coughing for two weeks; she had coughed so badly that her contractions started early.

A pediatrician checking Dylan heard Bianchi's bark-like cough ā€” and a subsequent whooping sound as she gasped for air. The doctor told Bianchi it sounded like whooping cough, also called pertussis, and urged her to see her own doctor once she left the hospital.

She did so. But that physician listened to her lungs, she says, and then dismissed the possibility. Whooping cough was a disease of the past, the San Francisco woman recalls the doctor saying.

The doctor told her to keep breast-feeding and to wash her hands and gave her some inhalers to control lung spasms caused by what was believed to be a cold.

Two weeks later, Dylan was dead. He was 17 days old.

An autopsy found that Dylan died of a massive infection of the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, which causes whooping cough. Bianchi said she infected both Dylan and her older son, Cole, then 31/2. Cole too became seriously ill but survived.

Bianchi, a critical care nurse in San Francisco, doesn't know when, or from whom, she contracted the disease, only that she had been vaccinated as a child.
 
 

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