Whooping cough is now at epidemic levels in California, with cases of pertussis in the state approaching the highest number of illnesses and death due to the disease in 50 years, according to a new report released June 23, 2010, from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). In just first six months of 2010, CDPH officials recorded 910 cases of pertussis/whooping cough, a four-fold increase from the same period last year when 219 cases were recorded. Five infants—all under 3 months of age—have died from the disease this year. In addition, 600 more possible cases of pertussis are being investigated by local health departments, according to a Los Angeles Times article.
Health officials speculate that part of the rise might be partly due to the cyclical nature of communicable diseases. In California, cases of whooping cough tend to peak every two to five years. In 2005, California recorded 3,182 cases and eight deaths. California is also one of 11 states that does not require adolescents to receive pertussis booster shots. As the Los AngelesTimes points out, although many people may think they are still protected from whooping cough because they received inoculations as a young child, immunity can begin fading five years after the immunization.
Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly contagious bacterial disease that infects the respiratory system. According to the new warning from the CDPH, unimmunized or incompletely immunized young infants are particularly vulnerable. Since 1998, more than 80 percent of the infants in California who have died from pertussis have been Hispanic.
Pertussis vaccination begins at 2 months of age, but young infants are not adequately protected until the initial series of three shots is complete at 6 months of age. The series of shots that most children receive wears off by the time they finish middle school. Neither vaccination nor illness from pertussis provides lifetime immunity.
The CDPH also advises that pregnant women may be vaccinated against pertussis before pregnancy, during pregnancy, or after giving birth. Fathers may be vaccinated at any time, but preferably before the birth of their baby. Others who may have contact with infants, including family members, healthcare workers, and childcare workers, should also be vaccinated. Individuals should contact their regular healthcare provider or local health department to inquire about pertussis vaccination.