California Public Health Department Declares Pertussis Epidemic

First Posted: Jun 13, 2014 08:38 PM EDT

On Friday, the California Health Department declared pertussis, also known as whooping cough, a problem of epidemic proportions. The highly contagious respiratory disease infected over 800 people in the past two weeks.

Already in 2014, California has documented nearly 3,500 whooping cough cases, which is already greater than all reported in 2013. The health department felt it was necessary to declare the respiratory disease an epidemic because 23% of the total cases this year were documented in the past two weeks.

Whooping cough, medically known as Pertussis, is known for uncontrollable and violent coughing that makes breathing difficult. It commonly affects infants and young children and is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It spreads just like the common cold or the flu, through coughing and sneezing, and one person can infect up to 15 others who are nearby.

Adults can still become infected and health officials are urging everyone who isn't up to date with their vaccines to receive a Tdap booster (for adults) or the DtaP booster (for children). The disease can even be fatal in infants under one-year-old, and interestingly enough, California experienced a whooping cough outbreak in 2010 that killed ten infants. It was the worst outbreak in 60 years.

"Unlike some other vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, neither vaccination nor illness from pertussis offers lifetime immunity," Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health, in this CNN News article. "However, vaccination is still the best defense against the potentially fatal diseases."

However, the Pertussis problem isn't limited to just California. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 24% increase of whooping cough cases from January to April across the United States compared to last year's span during the same months. This current outbreak is too new for scientists to know what the cause is thus far.

Whooping cough is often cyclical and peaks every three to five years, so medical experts should know the cause of this outbreak fairly soon.

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