The whooping cough outbreak that has been sweeping across the nation was officially declared an epidemic by the California Public Health Department and officials warned the spread of the disease is on pace to set a new record for the rate of illnesses and deaths.
“Whooping cough is now an epidemic in California,” said Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Public Health Department. “Children should be vaccinated against the disease and parents, family members, and caregivers of infants need a booster shot.”
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a bacterial infection that attacks the respiratory system. The disease is characterized by severe coughing spasms and last for several weeks, or months. It’s spread from person to person through coughing and/or sneezing. 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.
A vaccine for pertussis has been available since 1940, prior to which, it was a frequent cause of death in infants and young children in the United States, according to the CDC.
Whooping cough is a cyclical disease with cases peaking every few years. However, state health officials said the rate of infection for this year has been growing at such a rapid rate that it will likely hit a level that hasn’t been seen in 50 years.
The latest figures from the state health department show 910 recorded cases of whooping cough through mid-June, which is a four-fold increase from the same time frame last year when 219 cases were recorded. Additionally, health officials are investigating another 600 more possible cases of whooping cough.
California has had five deaths attributed to the disease this year. All the deaths were of infants under the age of three months. In Stanislaus County there have been 30 cases and one infant death.
The public health department declares an epidemic when a disease shows a significant increase across a broad range of the population.
The CDC 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 and they will need a booster shot. Neither vaccination nor illness from pertussis provides lifetime immunity.
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. Individuals should contact their regular health care provider or local health department to inquire about pertussis vaccination.
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