Whooping Cough: California’s Preventable Epidemic

30 06 2010

Recent news reports warn that California stands to “…suffer the most illnesses and deaths due to pertussis, also known as whooping cough, in 50 years.”  At least 5 infants have died of whooping cough with another 600 suspected cases currently under investigation.  Public health officials have labeled it an epidemic.

It’s easy to forget that before the vaccine was made available, pertussis killed thousands of people and infected hundreds of thousands each year.  Once a vaccine was developed, cases dropped by 99 percent, but the numbers haven’t stayed that low. In 2008, there were more than 13,000 infections and several deaths.

It is estimated that a rising number of families in California are choosing to avoid vaccinating their children through the use of a “personal belief exemption.”  Given this trend, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing a resurgence in infectious diseases like pertussis.

Some basic facts about pertussis:

  1. Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial disease that infects the respiratory system.  Symptoms can appear mild at first, including a runny nose and a mild cough. When in doubt, take your child to the doctor right away.
  2. Infants can become gravely ill very quickly.
  3. Symptoms may progress to rapid coughing (sounds like a “whoop” in young children) coupled with difficulty breathing. Infants can turn blue from lack of oxygen.
  4. Left untreated, pertussis can lead to bacterial pneumonia and, especially in infants, seizure, encephalopathy, or death.

How to protect your child from pertussis

  1. The best way to protect infants from pertussis  is to vaccinate them according to the recommended schedule.
  2. Immunity from pertussis begins to fade by the time we reach our teens, so it’s critical that adolescents and adults get the one-time pertussis booster in order to cocoon the infants and others in their lives who are not able to be fully vaccinated.
  3. Keep anyone with a cough away from your child.
  4. Wash your hands and your child’s hands regularly.

Protect your children by talking to your provider to see what vaccines are right for your family. To read more about pertussis, go here.

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