The number of pertussis (whooping cough) cases in the state has reached epidemic proportions it was reported Friday by Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and state health officer.
As of June 10, there have been 3,458 cases of pertussis reported to CDPH in 2014, more than were reported in all of 2013. Over 800 new cases have been reported in the past two weeks.
Pertussis is cyclical and peaks every 3-5 years. The last peak in California occurred in 2010, so it is likely another peak is underway.
“Preventing severe disease and death in infants is our highest priority,” says Dr. Chapman. “We urge all pregnant women to get vaccinated. We also urge parents to vaccinate infants as soon as possible.”
Infants too young to be fully immunized remain most vulnerable to severe and fatal cases of pertussis. Two-thirds of pertussis hospitalizations have been in children four months or younger. Two infant deaths have been reported.
The Tdap vaccination for pregnant women is the best way to protect infants who are too young to be vaccinated. All pregnant women should be vaccinated with Tdap in the third trimester of each pregnancy, regardless of previous Tdap vaccination. In addition, infants should be vaccinated as soon as possible. The first dose of pertussis vaccine can be given as early as 6 weeks of age.
Older children, pre-adolescents, and adults should also be vaccinated against pertussis according to current recommendations. It is particularly important that persons who will be around newborns also be vaccinated.
“Unlike some other vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles, neither vaccination nor illness from pertussis offers lifetime immunity,” says Dr. Ron Chapman. “However, vaccination is still the best defense against this potentially fatal disease.”
The symptoms of pertussis vary by age. For children, a typical case of pertussis starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks. The cough then worsens and children may have rapid coughing spells that end with a “whooping” sound. Young infants may not have typical pertussis symptoms and may have no apparent cough. Parents may describe episodes in which the infant’s face turns red or purple. For adults, pertussis may simply be a cough that persists for several weeks.
CDPH is working closely with local health departments, schools, media outlets and other partners to inform the general public about the importance of vaccination against pertussis.
Pertussis data, including the number of cases in each county, can be found on the CDPH website, and is updated regularly.
— California Department of Public Health press release