Brady Alcaide, of Chicopee, Mass., died at two months old of pertussis.
Brady Alcaide — a happy, healthy six-week-old baby — got his first cold shortly after the new year.
His mother, Kathy Riffenburg, had seen her share of sniffles (she has two older daughters, 8 and 5) and didn’t think much of it. “It was just a little cough and sneeze,” she said. “I wasn’t too worried.”
But a few days later, on January 6, Brady’s fever spiked to 104 degrees. So, in the middle of the night, Riffenburg and her husband Jonathan decided to take the baby to the emergency department at Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Mass. near their home in Chicopee. Brady tested negative for flu and a common respiratory virus. By early morning, his fever was gone and the family was sent home.
Three weeks later Brady would be dead, a victim of pertussis, or whooping cough, a preventable but highly contagious bacterial disease that has been on the rise in recent decades.
At home, Brady’s breathing became slightly more labored; he’d been diagnosed with bronchiolitis, a swelling and buildup of mucus in the tiny air passages of the lungs, usually due to a viral infection. After another examination later in the week, a pediatrician prescribed albuterol to ease Brady’s symptoms.
On January 16, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Brady started spitting up more and his breathing worsened. This time he was admitted to Baystate’s pediatric ICU, his mother said. A medical team assessed him; and an infectious disease doctor suggested he might have pertussis, though the diagnosis remained uncertain. Indeed, the family didn’t get confirmation of Brady’s pertussis until after his death, when a test for the disease came back positive. “I could have bet my whole life that it wasn’t pertussis,” Riffenburg said, recalling her reaction when the illness was first mentioned. “He wasn’t coughing like I would have imagined. And I didn’t know any infant who ever had pertussis.”
But pertussis, or whooping cough, or “the cough of 100 days” for its generally long duration, has been on the rise since the 1980s, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease is characterized by violent, uncontrollable coughing (including the characteristic “whoop” sound) that can make it hard to breathe. But sometimes there is no “whoop.” And infants with pertussis don’t always cough, but may have apnea, a long pause in their breathing. The disease is most common in young children; babies under one are particularly vulnerable and face the greatest risk of death. Continue reading