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Health officials push vaccine as epidemic grows
Whooping cough most severe for babies
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As the number of whooping cough cases continues to surge upwards, local and state health departments, as well as politicians are trying to put forth efforts that will turn the tide of the epidemic.

Health departments are campaigning hard to spread the word about vaccinations while one assemblyman is lobbying for a bill that would make booster shots of the vaccine mandatory for incoming seventh graders.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a bacterial infection that attacks the respiratory system. It’s a highly contagious disease that infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to if they haven’t been immunized, the Centers for Disease Control reported. Whooping cough is a cyclical disease with cases peaking every few years. Currently, the nation is experiencing a resurgence of the disease, according to the CDC.

By mid-June the number of whooping cough cases in California had surpassed 900, more than four times the number of last year, and was declared an epidemic by the California Public Health Department. Within just a few weeks the number of confirmed cases had reached 1,337, with an additional 700 cases being investigated by health officials. The upswing is not all new cases. Some are months hold that have just recently been confirmed as pertussis.

So far, there have been five deaths caused by whooping cough, all of which were infants under 3 months old. One of the deaths recorded was of a 4-week-old infant in Stanislaus County, who died in May.

The latest figure from the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency puts the local cases at 55, which is a three-fold increase from the same time frame as last year.

“We are sure there are more cases out there that just need to be verified,” said Dr. John Walker, county public health director.

The significant increase in infections is the key factor in the push for immunization. Walker said the county health agency has been working hard to spread the word about vaccinations, especially to mothers and fathers of newborns. The health agency has put up posters at the vital records office urging parents to be vaccinated and is working with health care providers to push immunization. They’re also spreading the message in the Latino community, which has been hit particularly hard by the epidemic. All five infant deaths have been Latinos.

The cases of whooping cough in Stanislaus County have sickened every age range from infants to seniors, but have had a severer outcome for babies and young children. Stanislaus County’s rate of infection for infants less than 1 year is 75 per 100,000 and 16 per 100,000 for children 1 year to 6 years. Children between the ages of 7 years to 9 years have an infection rate of 19 per 100,000 and 11 per 100,000 for those between the ages of 10 years to 18 years.

All children are required to get the Dtap vaccine, which includes pertussis, before they can enter kindergarten. However, the vaccine typically starts to wane after children reach middle school age. In 2005, Ttap, a booster shot, was licensed for use in the United States. Among the booster vaccinations in Ttap is one for pertussis.

“It’s really a tremendous advance towards our prevention strategies,” Walker said.

Since 2005, all but 11 states, including California, have made the booster vaccine mandatory for middle school students. This year Assemblyman Juan Arambula (I-Fresno) has introduced AB354, which would require the booster shot of all incoming seventh graders. Arambula brought the bill forward in February when the number of whooping cough cases started to show as increase. The bill has the support of several medical organizations. Both the CDC and the CPHD recommend adolescents receive the pertussis booster. A similar bill was shot down two years ago because of monetary concerns. AB 354 is currently in committee.

Individuals should contact their regular health care provider or local health department to inquire about pertussis vaccination.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.