California Whooping Cough Epidemic: Over 900 Cases Confirmed
California health authorities have declared an epidemic of whooping cough (pertussis) in the state on Wednesday after the Department of Health has confirmed 910 cases as of June 15 and five infant deaths from the highly contagious infection. At this time last year, about 219 cases were reported in the state.
Several hundred more cases are under investigation, leading the California Department of Health to call the outbreak “the largest in the state in 50 years.”
Dr. Gilberto Chavez, the deputy director of the Center for Infectious Disease, said that there is a fourfold increase of pertussis compared to 2009. “The peak season starts in the summer,” Dr. Chavez said, noting that July and August usually have the highest number of cases. “And we expect to see a much larger number of cases if we don’t intervene quickly.”
About 5,000 to 7,000 cases of whooping cough are reported in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Epidemics occur every three to five years, with the most recent in 2005 where more than 25,000 cases were reported – 3200 in California and 7 deaths.
Whooping cough is an upper respiratory infection caused by the Bordetella pertussis or Bordetella parapertussis bacteria. It usually begins with flu-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing, fever and a mild cough. The cough progresses until it is uncontrollable and violent – often leading to vomiting. A deep “whooping” sound is often heard when the patient tries to take a breath. The infection usually lasts about 6 weeks.
Officials are urging California residents, particularly those who are Latino, to get vaccinated. The five deaths were all Latino children under the age of 3 months. Dr. Chavez says that lack of information and access to vaccines in agricultural regions might be a culprit in the high incidence in that community.
Infants usually receive the DTaP vaccination against pertussis in four stages, at two months, four months, six months and 15-18 months. Because the vaccine is only effective for about 5 years, children receive a booster around kindergarten age. Booster vaccines, Tdap, are recommended at age 10 to 11 as well and every 10 years thereafter. Health officials recommend that anyone in a household with a young child, particularly an infant under 1 year old, receive a booster vaccination as well.
Uninsured individuals under the age of 18 can receive the vaccinations for free at public health clinics under the “Vaccines for Children” program.