FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — An infant became the state's first pertussis or whooping cough fatality, this year.
The baby was 2-months-old and from Forsyth county. Health experts say whooping cough cases continue to rise in the state and throughout country and they are strongly urging parents to take steps to protect their children and loved ones.
Whooping cough is a highly contagious illness that is spread from person to person by coughing or sneezing.
"In most people, it causes symptoms that resemble the common cold but it can be very serious and in-fact, life threatening for infants," said State Health Director Dr. Laura Gerald.
The number of whooping cough cases in North Carolina have already doubled in 2012.
"One of the main reasons we think that we're seeing more cases is again because that immunity or protection from the disease wears off over time," said Gerald.
Doctors recommend the DTaP vaccination series for children starting at the age of 2 months. But it takes children up six years to receive all of their shots and be fully vaccinated.
"If you have a child under 12 months, really the only protection you have for that baby is you. You should get vaccinated and all older adults and older children who are around the baby," said Gerald.
Infectious diseases expert Dr. Christopher Ohl said anyone age 11 and up should get the booster shot. North Carolina public schools require it.
"Anytime you see a baby who is suffering from whooping cough, it really kind of gets to you. It's not easy to watch," said Ohl.
The Department of Health and Human Services is offering the vaccine for free for a limited time. For more information on how to receive a shot, click here.