Background: In the current era, most pertussis deaths occur in infants <3 months of age. Leukocytosis with lymphocytosis and pneumonia are commonly observed among cases of severe pertussis.
Methods: Risk factors associated with fatal pertussis were identified by comparing fatal pertussis cases among patients <120 days of age occurring from 1 January 1998 through 26 December 2014, matched by age (<120 days), county of residence, and closest symptom onset date with 1-4 nonfatal hospitalized cases. California Department of Public Health surveillance data were reviewed to identify cases; demographics, clinical presentation, and course were abstracted from corresponding birth and medical records. Logistic regression and classification tree analyses were used to examine the risk of fatal pertussis with respect to identified factors.
Results: Fifty-three fatal infant pertussis cases were identified and compared with 183 nonfatal hospitalized pertussis cases. Fatal cases had significantly lower birth weight, younger gestational age, younger age at time of cough onset, and higher peak white blood cell (WBC) and lymphocyte counts. Fatal cases were less likely to have received macrolide antibiotics and more likely to have received steroids or nitric oxide and to develop pulmonary hypertension, seizures, encephalitis, and pneumonia. Additionally, exchange transfusion, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, and intubation occurred significantly more frequently among fatal cases. In multivariate analyses, peak WBC count, birth weight, intubation, and receipt of nitric oxide were predictors of death.
Conclusions: Early recognition of pertussis in young infants and treatment with appropriate antibiotic therapy are important in preventing death. Several risk factors are strongly associated with fatal pertussis in infants.
Keywords: infant pertussis; leukocytosis; lymphocytosis; pneumonia; pulmonary hypertension.
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