California Whooping Cough Cases Reach Epidemic Levels

Whooping cough epidemic in California as pertussis case counts climb and DTaP vaccines stressed

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) A slight cough may not be a big issue, but when the severe fits of whooping cough are at play, the situation can be serious. Experts are on alert as an epidemic emerges in one US state.

Case counts of whooping cough are increasing quickly this year in California.

Health officials are reminding the public about vaccines and booster shots that protect against this infectious disease.

"Discuss your child's vaccinations with a physician."

On June 12, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) reported that the number of cases of whooping cough in that state are now high enough for the situation to be considered an epidemic - meaning the disease is causing many infections and spreading quickly.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a respiratory condition spread from person to person, often through coughing or sneezing. The highly contagious disease often begins with a slight cough or fever, which later develops into violent coughing.

Whooping cough can lead to severe complications - especially in unvaccinated children and infants. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of infants with pertussis are hospitalized, and of these, about 23 percent get pneumonia, about 67 percent will have a slowed or stopped breathing called apnea and about 1.6 percent will die.

CDPH reported that more than 800 new cases of pertussis have been identified in the state during the past two weeks alone. So far during 2014, a total of 3,458 Californian cases had been reported - more than the total number of cases seen during the entire year of 2013.

"Pertussis is cyclical and peaks every 3-5 years," explained CDPH. "The last peak in California occurred in 2010, so it is likely another peak is underway."

In a news release, Ron Chapman, MD, Director of CDPH, stressed the importance of protecting the most vulnerable populations from whopping cough.

"Preventing severe disease and death in infants is our highest priority. We urge all pregnant women to get vaccinated," said Dr. Chapman. "We also urge parents to vaccinate infants as soon as possible.”

A vaccination called DTaP that protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis is a routine vaccination for infants in the US. Booster shots are available for older children and adults, as the effectiveness of the vaccine fades over time.

“Unlike some other vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles, neither vaccination nor illness from pertussis offers lifetime immunity,” explained Dr. Chapman. “However, vaccination is still the best defense against this potentially fatal disease.”

CDC noted that people who have been vaccinated and still become ill with whooping cough are less likely than unvaccinated people to experience a severe infection.

Review Date: 
June 16, 2014
Last Updated:
June 17, 2014