Whooping cough epidemic spreads through California

June 17, 2014

Pertussis – also known as whooping cough – has been declared an epidemic in California, with more than 800 cases reported in the last two weeks.

 

Pertussis – also known as whooping cough – has been declared an epidemic in California, with more than 800 cases reported in the last two weeks.

Since the beginning of this year, 3,458 cases have been reported, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). The epidemic has prompted a push from the CDPH to ensure that patients are fully immunized.

“Preventing severe disease and death in infants is our highest priority,” said Ron Chapman, MD, director of the CDPH, in a written statement. “We urge all pregnant women to get vaccinated. We also urge parents to vaccinate infants as soon as possible.”

The common symptoms of pertussis may include rapid coughs, vomiting, and exhaustion, but they vary with age. The CDPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that patients get up-to-date on their DTaP and Tdap vaccinations.

“Unlike some other vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles, neither vaccination nor illness from pertussis offers lifetime immunity,” says Chapman. “However, vaccination is still the best defense against this potentially fatal disease.”

The CDPH says pertussis is cyclical, peaking every three to five years. But pertussis is not the only highly infectious disease to see recent spikes in outbreaks. The number of measles cases, which had been declared eradicated from the United States in 2000, is at a 20-year high. The CDC links the outbreak to unvaccinated people who travelled abroad.

In a post on the American Academy of Family Physicians’ blog, Beth Loney Oller, MD, talks about vaccine-resistant parents and her struggle as a physician to respect patient choices, even if she disagrees with them. She recommends educating parents on the risks and establishing practice policies to protect the health of vulnerable patient populations. For example, she says ill, unvaccinated patients may need to be taken immediately to an exam room to avoid contact with other patients.