Whooping cough reaches epidemic proportions

DOWNEY - More cases of whooping cough were reported in October than any other month so far, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced this week, renewing the call for residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible.Whooping cough - known medically as pertussis - has reached epidemic levels, health officials said. "We have received 101 pertussis reports for the first week of November alone, and 429 reports for the month of October. This is an epidemic that is reaching numbers we've never seen before in Los Angeles County," said Jonathan Fielding, MD, director of public health. "This disease can be prevented with a vaccine and I urge everyone who is eligible to take advantage of this protection for themselves and their loved ones. If you have not already done so, make it a priority this weekend to get vaccinated." To date, more than 1,600 cases of whooping cough have been reported this year. Of those, only 480 have been classified as "probable" or "confirmed" so far - many turn out to be false reports, occurred outside L.A. County or simply cannot be verified. But the numbers are still significantly higher when compared to previous years. In 2009, there were 156 probable or confirmed cases of pertussis countywide, and only 80 cases in 2008. Officials are particularly concerned because whooping cough has claimed four lives in L.A. County this year, all of them infants. In a normal year, it is responsible for one or no deaths. "Whooping cough is a disease that is especially dangerous for infants under six months of age, who are not old enough to have received the number of vaccine doses needed to be fully protected," Fielding said. "Now is an especially important time to get vaccinated. Vaccinations do not give you instant immunity, and take time to develop full protection. By taking action now, you can ensure that you are protected for the holiday gatherings." The state Department of Public Health recently expanded its vaccination recommendations amid rising numbers of whooping cough cases. In addition to the usual series of childhood pertussis vaccinations, the state now recommends a booster vaccine (Tdap) for kids ages 7-9 who did not complete the pertussis vaccination series at an earlier age; anyone 11 or older, especially women of childbearing age, during or immediately after pregnancy; and seniors 65 and older. "Infants are most likely to be infected by parents, grandparents, older siblings, daycare workers and other caregivers who have whooping cough but often don't know that this disease is the reason for their symptoms," Fielding said. "People suffering from a cough illness who have contact with infants should seek medical care immediately. Anyone who lives with or has frequent contact with an infant should ensure that their vaccinations are up-to-date." According to a recent study, 41% of infants infected with whooping cough contracted the disease from a sibling, 38% from their mother, and 17% from their father. Anyone with a cough illness should avoid contact with infants, health officials said. Whooping cough is spread by coughing. Typical symptoms in young children include intense coughing accompanied by a whooping sound, and post-cough vomiting. However, some infants infected with pertussis may not show typical symptoms, but can still suffer life-threatening complications, which can include pneumonia and seizures. Among older children and adults, the primary symptom may be a cough that often lasts for several weeks or longer. Children should receive three primary vaccinations containing the pertussis vaccine and two boosters by age 4-6, followed by a Tdap booster during their preteen years. Any teen or adult who has not received a Tdap booster yet should do so, particularly if they are in contact with an infant. Residents who do not have a regular healthcare provider or insurance coverage can receive free or low-cost vaccinations by dialing 211 or going to www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/ip for referrals to providers. Some major pharmacy chains offer the Tdap vaccine for a fee.

********** Published: November 18, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 31