Whooping cough is on the rise and Friday, the California Department of Public Health declared a statewide Pertussis epidemic. Since the start of the year, there have been over 3,400 diagnosed cases of the highly contagious respiratory disease. In the past two weeks, over 800 people have been diagnosed, calling for the state public health department to declare an epidemic.
Pertussis, better known as whooping cough, causes violent, uncontrollable coughing and gasping that make it hard to breathe. It is caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacterium and is common for infants and young children to catch. It spreads in the same manner as a cold or the flu, through coughing and sneezing, and one person can infect up to 15 people close by. The disease can cause death in infants.
The department of public health is urging all pregnant women and people who have contact with young children to get the Tdap (Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) booster because adults can still become infected. Parents with infants are also being urged to get their babies vaccinated as soon as possible. Dr. Ron Chapman, of the California Department of Public Health, says there is a need for people to update their shot records. He says that although neither vaccination nor illness from Pertussis provides lifetime immunity, vaccination is still the best line of defense against it.
The California Department of Public Health says young children need five doses of the DTaP (Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccination by age four to six, before starting kindergarten and older students need to have a Tdap booster before entering the seventh grade. Pregnant women should be vaccinated in the third trimester to provide the newborn immunity until it is old enough to be vaccinated.
At this point, 119 of the people with Pertussis have been hospitalized and 21 of them have required intensive care, according to the public health department. The majority of cases reported so far have been infants and children under 16. There have been two infant deaths.
In 2010, California experienced a Pertussis epidemic that totaled 9,153 cases with 10 infant mortalities. State health officials fear a repeat of the worst outbreak to hit it since 1910.
Los Angeles County has already reported 259 cases since January, which is just 87 short of the 346 cases reported for 2013. Long Beach is seeing a rapid increases in Pertussis cases this year. So far 92 cases have been reported this year compared to 16 last year, and 68 in 2010. The city’s health officials attribute the increase to an increase in reporting and diagnosing.
On the North Coast, the Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency confirmed a case of Pertussis in a local child, Friday. No other cases have been reported in the area.
Across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 24 percent increase in Pertussis cases from January to April compared to the number of cases during the same months last year.
The origin of this year’s whooping cough spate has not yet been identified. Pertussis often comes in cycles, peaking every three to five years, so medical experts predict they will know the cause of this outbreak fairly soon in the California epidemic.
By Brandi M. Fleeks