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California sees worst epidemic of whooping cough in 50 years

California warned on June 23 that the state has recorded a large number of pertussis or whooping cough cases so far this year, the worst in 50 years.

As of June 15, the state has received reports of 910 cases of pertusssis compared to 219 cases recorded last year for the same period.  Five infants all under three months had died from the disease this year.

Local health departments are reportedly investigating additional 600 possible cases, the state government says in the statement.

"Whooping cough is now an epidemic in California," Dr. Mark Horton, director of Department of Public Health. "Children should be vaccinated against the disease and parents, family members and caregivers of infants need a booster shot."

Particularly at risk of pertussis are unimmunized or incompletely immunized young infants.  Among the deaths from the disease recorded in the state, more than 80 percent have been Hispanic since 1998.


What do you need to know

Pertussis (whooping cough)

This is a very contagious yet vaccine-preventable infection caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis, which can cause the disease in infants, children and adults.  Infants who are too young to get vaccinated are particularly at a higher risk. It is the most common disease that vaccines can prevent.

Pertussis Symptoms

The symptoms is similar to those for the common cold including running nose or congestion, sneezing, or mild cough or fever.  The cough can be become severe after 1 to 2 weeks and infants and children with the disease can cough violently and rapidly.  

Infants are most vulnerable for the disease.  One in 20 infants with pertussis get pneumonia and one in 100 have convulsions and in rare cases, infants with the disease die.

How Pertussis Spreads

Pertussis can spread from person to person through the air.  Infants are at high risk when parents suffer the disease.

Pertussis in the United States

The disease has been on the rise since the 1980s particularly among teens aged 10 to 19 years of age and babies less than 6 months of age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease affected more than 13,000 people and killed 18 nationally 2008.

Pertussis prevention

The CDC says the best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated. For children a vaccine called DTaP is recommended to prevent pertussis and also diphtheria and tetanus.

The protective effect does not last too long so children need five shots to prevent the diseases. The first three shots should be administered at 2,4,6 months of age and the fourth is given between 15 and 18 months and the fifth is given when the child enters school at the age of 4 to 6 years.

Alternatives for pertussis prevention

Although many nutrients like vitamin c and D are well known to enhance the immunity against bacterial infections, few studies intended to prove any alternative may help prevent pertussis.

Regardless, it is assumed that not everyone is at the same risk for the disease and those who have some underlying conditions like compromised immunity may be at high risk for the disease.

By David Liu

(The article may contain some content from the CDC)