The family of a newborn who died of whooping cough is pleading with Albertans to get their children immunized.

Harper Whitehead was just a month old when she died from complications of the disease.

Her case is one of roughly 40 reported in the Lethbridge region in southern Alberta so far this year.

Typically, only one to three cases are reported each year.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta says this is the worst year for whooping cough in five decades.

Harper's aunt Dani Whitehead says the family didn't know the disease was so serious.

"We didn't think it would be fatal because you don't hear about babies getting it," she said. "You always hear about younger kids or adults, and they get sick for a bit and then they are fine. We really didn't think the worst would happen."

Whitehead and the rest of the family are now hoping people will think twice about getting immunized.

"There are a lot of horror stories about people who get immunized and then they get worse from it, but we just want people to know that getting immunized could help prevent this from happening to another family," she said.

Alberta Health Services has scheduled a number of immunization clinics across the region for next week.

Contact your community health office for times and dates.

Symptoms generally worse at night

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is spread from person to person by droplets from the nose and mouth. Coughing, sneezing as well as sharing things like lipstick, water bottles, cigarettes or food will spread the highly contagious disease.

If you or your child have pertussis symptoms, see a doctor and then stay home. Antibiotics given early can reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. Symptoms start as a runny nose, mild fever or cough. Within one to two weeks, the mild cough may progress into severe, frequent coughing spells lasting several minutes and happening many times a day.

The coughing, which sounds like a whoop, may be followed by gagging and vomiting and is generally worse at night. The cough may last for two months or longer. Other problems such as pneumonia, convulsions, brain injury or even death may occur.