By Melinda Carstensen
Whooping cough cases are up 24 percent across the country, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported, and in California the outbreak has reached epidemic proportions.
California health officials announced last week that the state saw the number of reported cases in 2014 already exceed those in all of 2013.
Whooping cough, medically known as pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory disease characterized by violent coughing and difficulty breathing. It spreads through sneezing and coughing, and can cause pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death. Symptoms typically appear on average seven to 10 days after exposure.
It can be especially dangerous for young children and potentially fatal to infants.
Up until June 10, the California saw nearly 3,500 cases of whooping cough, including two infant deaths. More than 800 cases had been reported in the two-week span prior. Nationally there have been at least 9,964 cases reported, well ahead of the 2013 pace.
Officials are still investigating potential causes for the rise in whooping cough cases, but Seth Mnookin, author of “The Panic Virus,” said the under-immunization of kids and adults is likely a contributor to this year’s outbreak as it has been in the past.
As a part of the so-called anti-vax movement, some parents have opted not to get their kids vaccinated because of fear of autism or a vaccine overload, two suspicions that have been debunked by research. Still, concerns among some people remain strong.
Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told the Washington Post the anti-vax movement likely contributed to the measles outbreak a couple of months ago. From January to April of this year, California had again been hit the hardest of all U.S. states, with 58 reported measles cases. The CDC reported that has been the largest measles outbreak since 1996.
Mnookin, the vaccination author, said recent measles outbreaks “are 100 percent due to the anti-vax movement.”
The California Department of Public Health announced that infants too young to be fully immunized are the most susceptible to pertussis. The first dose of the pertussis vaccine can be given at 6 weeks old.
More than 90 percent of kids nationally get the first three doses of the pertussis vaccine, but many don’t get the Tdap booster, which also protects against tetanus and diphtheria.
Officials are urging adults, especially pregnant women, to get that vaccination as well.
Pertussis is cyclical and peaks every three to five years, according to the CDC. The last peak was in 2010, when the disease impacted 9,159 people and killed 10 infants in California. More than 27,000 cases were reported nationally that year, Medical Daily reports.
Research published in 2013 in the journal Pediatrics suggests that outbreak was partially due to parents intentionally not vaccinating their kids.
While illness or vaccination provides immunity from measles, those things don’t guarantee protection from whooping cough. But experts say vaccination is the best step people can take to protect themselves.
“Preventing severe disease and death in infants is our highest priority,” Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Health, said in a press release. “We urge all pregnant women to get vaccinated. We also urge parents to vaccinate infants as soon as possible.”
“Vaccination is still the best defense against this potentially fatal disease.”
Pertussis data, including the number of cases in each county, can be found on the CDPH website, which is updated regularly.