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California in midst of whooping cough epidemic

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The California department of health issued a warning that the number of cases of pertussis or whooping cough are two to six times higher than normal. Pertussis is a bacterial infection that affects the upper respiratory area. The infection has claimed the lives of at least five infants this year.

Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), in Sacramento said last week that the state was on track to have its worst pertussis, or whooping cough, epidemic in 50 years.

Horton advised parents to have their children vaccinated against the disease and that  parents, family members and caregivers of infants should get a vaccine booster shot.

MercuryNews.com reports that whooping cough cases in Alameda County have increased more than sixfold, from five at this time last year to 32 through June 15 this year.

The CDPH reports that statewide, California had recorded 910 cases of pertussis by June 15, a four-fold increase from the same period last year when 219 cases were recorded. Five infants under three 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.

Pertussis typically starts with a cough and runny nose that last for one to two weeks, followed by weeks or months of rapid coughing fits that sometimes end with a whooping sound. A fever is rarely present.

Pertussis is a highly contagious disease. 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 is a bacterial respiratory illness characterized by severe spasms of coughing that can last for several weeks or even for months. Pertussis is usually spread from person to person when a person coughs or sneezes. Before the introduction of vaccination in the 1940s, pertussis was a frequent cause of serious illness and death among infants and young children in the United States..

CDPH says the pertussis vaccine is safe for children and adults. Pertussis vaccination begins at two 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.
Read patient stories about pertussis at ShotbyShot.org: Stories of vaccine-preventable diseases

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. CDPH encourages birthing hospitals to implement policies to vaccinate new mothers and fathers before sending newborns home. CDPH is providing vaccine free of charge to hospitals.

Others who may have contact with infants, including family members, healthcare workers, and childcare workers, should also be vaccinated. Individuals should contact their regular health care provider or local health department to inquire about pertussis vaccination.

Pertussis outbreaks are cyclical and cases tend to peak every two to five years, according to the California health department. In 2005, California recorded 3,182 cases and eight deaths.

More information:

CDC: Pertussis Disease - Questions & Answers
(Whooping Cough)

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