Whooping Cough at Highest Level in California Since 1950, With 10 Deaths

California reported its 10th death from whooping cough as the state’s total number of 2010 cases reached its highest level since 1950, said Mike Sicilia, spokesman for the California Department of Public Health.

A six-week-old infant who was born prematurely in San Diego County was the most recent baby to die from whooping cough, or pertussis, this year, Sicilia said in a telephone interview.

As of Oct. 19, California has reported 5,978 confirmed cases of whooping cough, a highly contagious disease that can be prevented with a vaccine. The 10 deaths in California are the most since 13 people died during one year in the late 1950s, Sicilia said.

“Pertussis is a cyclical disease that has had a five-year wave of historic patterns,” Sicilia said. “We are at the top of the five-year pattern” in California, he said.

Nearly 17,000 cases of pertussis were reported in the U.S. in 2009, although many cases go unreported or undiagnosed, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease gets its name, whooping cough, from the distinctive gasp between coughing spasms of patients.

Three Months Old

All 10 deaths in California have been among infants three months old or younger, said Wilma Wooten, public health officer for the San Diego County Health & Human Services Agency, in a telephone interview. The CDC recommends that children get five doses of vaccine through grade school, with the first dose given at two months, she said. The agency also recommends booster shots, known as Tdap, for adolescents and adults, she said.

Adults and caregivers of infants should check with their doctors to make sure their vaccinations are up to date, Wooten said. About 80 percent of infants who contract the disease get it from a household member or caregiver, she said.

Nine of the 10 infant deaths in California have been Hispanic children, according to the California health department.

Thirty-seven new cases of pertussis have been reported in San Diego County so far in October, suggesting a slowing rate of cases, Wooten said. The county had 179 cases in September and 193 cases in August, the peak month this year, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Olmos in San Francisco at dolmos@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at Rgale5@bloomberg.net

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