It started as a little cough. Just to be on the safe side, the parents of 2-month-old Gavin Norton took him to a pediatrician who diagnosed the beginning stages of respiratory syncytial virus -- a virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages.
The pediatrician said the baby would be sick for about a week, recover for another week and then get well, but the parents were told to watch out for rapid breathing, increased heart rate and a decrease in appetite.
A couple of days later the parents detected a more rapid heart rate and they took the infant to a hospital emergency room.
"We took Gavin to the hospital Dec. 29 and I anticipated they would give him fluids and we would take him home," Natalie Norton told United Press International. "I never expected he would be admitted and I never expected what happened next."
Gavin, still diagnosed with RSV, got worse and on Jan. 7, Gavin died of whooping cough, medically known as pertussis.
Pertussis deaths have been largely preventable because of vaccines.
"Infants are most at risk because they get their first shot against whooping cough at 2 months -- the routine diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis vaccine, or DTaP -- beginning at 2 months of age, they are not fully protected until they have received at least three doses of the vaccine, usually at 6 months," Ken August of the California Department of Public Health told UPI.
"Toddlers receive another shot at 15 months and another are age 4. We believe the immunity wanes from the vaccines or from actually having whooping cough by the time a child reaches middle-school age, but boosters are now available for teens and adults."
However, babies 6 months and younger have not completed the vaccines so they must depend on the people around them to be immunized.
Babies are most likely to catch pertussis from a member of their own family -- 80 percent of the time an infant gets pertussis from a family member and 50 percent of the time they get it from their parents.
Natalie Norton has joined the March of Dimes and Sanofi Pasteur, the maker of the vaccine, to raise awareness that parents need to get vaccinated to protect their infants from pertussis. The tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis vaccine booster for adults -- for adolescents and adults who have already developed immunity to tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis as children -- became available in 2005.
However, parents may have to ask their doctors for the Tdap booster. Natalie Norton discovered some doctors do not offer the vaccine.
"I've have four children, the oldest is age 7, then 5, 4 and Gavin would have been 1, but I was never told about the adult booster vaccine -- never, ever, did anyone tell me about the vaccine," Natalie Norton said.
"Gavin was born in October of last year and at that time we were worried about the H1N1 flu and because of that I hardly ever took him out in public."
Natalie and Richie Norton, live in Oahu, Hawaii, and after the birth of their fourth son, Gavin, last October, they decided to celebrate Christmas with their family in Utah, but before they left, Natalie Norton took Gavin to the pediatrician to make sure he was strong and healthy enough for the trip and the doctor gave the baby a clean bill of health.
On Dec. 26, Gavin's cough began. Pertussis often begins in what appears to be a cold, with a runny nose, a mild cough and minimal fever. However, after two weeks, a more severe cough can develop and these paroxysms of rapid coughing can cause shortness of breath and the need to quickly inhale, creating the characteristic "whooping noise." These fits of coughing and gasping can result in vomiting and dehydration. A chronic cough can develop and can last for several more weeks.
Complications can develop, such as pneumonia, seizures and periods of not breathing. Adults tend to have milder symptoms, with younger patients more at risk of severe disease and complications.
"My children were vaccinated for the flu and I always vaccinated my children, but my obstetrician, my son's pediatrician and my primary care physician never told me about the Tdap vaccine booster," Norton said.
"I have heard from other parents who tell me that they have asked their doctor for the Tdap vaccine and the doctors say the risk isn't high enough -- the risk is high enough if one child dies from this vicious disease and that has already been my child -- parents need to have the courage to ask their doctor for the adult Tdap booster and not to take no for answer -- no more children need to die."
Last week, the state of California announced it is having an epidemic of whooping cough and five children have died. County health departments throughout California are providing the vaccine.
Several other states also have reported a spike in cases compared to last year.
"Everyone ages 11 through 64 should get the Tdap booster vaccine to help protect themselves and reduce the risk of spreading pertussis to babies," Thomas Skinner, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta told UPI.
More information on pertussis is at: www.SoundsofPertussis.com.