While vaccines may ward against the disease, according to experts, it's hard for many parents to distinguish the symptoms of whooping cough and other illnesses.
"[Whooping cough] is one of the only vaccine-preventable diseases that is on the rise. People are walking around coughing and coughing but they don't know the difference between a cough and whooping cough," said Amy Pisani, executive director of the non-profit organization, Every Child by Two.
Indeed, whooping cough may start out looking like the common cold, said ABC News senior health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser. However, more severe coughing bouts start about 10 to 12 days later. And, in children, the coughing often ends with a "whoop" noise, said Besser.
"The sound is produced when the patient tries to take a breath," he said. "The whoop noise is rare in patients under 6 months of age and in adults, so you have to look for other symptoms in infants. For example, they may cough until they vomit, choke or lose consciousness."
Most unvaccinated children living with someone who has pertussis will get the disease, and 90 percent of pertussis-associated deaths have been among babies less than a year old, according to a 2003 study published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.
Treating whooping cough is difficult because even though it is considered a bacterial infection, the inflammation persists longer than the infection, Maldonado said. Antibiotics are effective if whooping cough is detected early, she said. However, oftentimes many weeks may pass before the symptoms distinguish the child's whooping cough from a cold.
"That makes it days and weeks that the child has whooping cough and it is too late for antibiotics," Maldonado said.
The VanTornhouts are speaking out and urging mothers to vaccinate themselves and their children against a seemingly forgotten, deadly disease.
"We want to help somebody else, before someone else's baby goes through this and parents don't suffer the loss of their miracle baby," VanTornhout said. "We believe that every new mom should be required to get this new vaccination. I'm going to do it in Callie's name."