The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has declared a pertussis epidemic, reporting thousands of cases of the disease across the state. Pertussis, commonly known as “whooping cough,” is an extremely contagious bacterial disease spread through coughing. While it typically begins with a cough or a runny nose, whooping cough can ultimately be fatal, particularly for children and infants.
According to the CDPH, pertussis is cyclical, meaning that it reaches a peak every few years as immunity from vaccines wear off, leaving more people susceptible. The last pertussis epidemic was in 2010, when more than 9,800 cases were reported — the highest number since the 1947 pertussis peak. As of June 10, the CDPH had recorded more than 3,400 cases of pertussis in California so far this year, 84 percent of which occurred in children and infants. This places pertussis at a rate of 9.05 cases per 100,000 people, CDPH says.
Symptoms of pertussis vary among age groups. Children may develop rapid coughing spells ending in a “whooping” sound, while infants with pertussis may not exhibit any coughing. In adults, pertussis may appear as a persistent cough. Infants are at a very high risk since they cannot be vaccinated until they are six weeks old; there have been two infant deaths this year as a result of whooping cough.
In a statement last week announcing the epidemic, CDPH officials urged people to get vaccinated. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP) has published recommendations for the pertussis vaccines DTaP (for infants and children) and Tdap (for adolescents and adults), which are viewable on the CDPH website.