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Whooping Cough Claims Nine Lives in California


Whooping cough (pertussis) has claimed nine lives in California. The latest death claimed the life of a San Bernardino county infant according to Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health.

There are effective vaccines that can prevent pertussis

While expressing sympathy to the baby’s family, Horton reminds us “We have an effective vaccine to prevent pertussis. We need the help of the entire community to combat this epidemic and particularly to ensure the protection of young infants.”

Whooping cough, pertussis, is a very contagious respiratory illness caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis is only found in humans and is spread from person to person by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others.

Symptoms of whooping cough usually develop within 7 – 10 days after being exposed, but sometimes not for as long as 6 weeks. The disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough or fever. After 1 to 2 weeks, severe coughing can begin. Unlike the common cold, pertussis can become a series of coughing fits that continues for weeks.

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As of Sept. 14, California had recorded more illnesses due to whooping cough (4,017) than in any year since 1955, when the disease caused 4,949 illnesses.

All of the nine infants who have died were under three months of age. The five-dose series of pertussis vaccinations typically starts at two months of age, but adequate protection doesn’t occur until the third dose at about six months of age. Parents, family members and caregivers of infants are urged to get a pertussis booster shot and provide a “cocoon of protection” around the newborns.

In response to the pertussis epidemic, CDPH is distributing free pertussis vaccine to birthing hospitals, community health centers, Native American health centers and local health departments. In addition, CDPH has broadened its recommendations for pertussis vaccination to include a booster shot for:

• Anyone seven years and older who is not fully immunized, including seniors;
• Women of childbearing age, before, during or immediately after pregnancy;
• Others who have contact with pregnant women or infants.
For those ages 65 and older, the newly recommended pertussis booster shot is a covered benefit for Medicare beneficiaries under the Medicare Part D plan, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

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California Department of Public Health