Healthy Choices

Sacramento County whooping-cough outbreak spurs effort to protect children

An outbreak of pertussis has Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye issuing a warning that residents who come into contact with babies or young children should be vaccinated against whooping cough.

“We do have some children and infants who have been diagnosed with pertussis,” Kasirye said. “They are the most vulnerable, and their symptoms are very subtle and can progress very quickly. They depend on the rest of the community to be vaccinated for the protection of the youngest.”

With the year not even half over, Sacramento County is registering more cases of pertussis in 2014 than in all of 2013, county health officials said. So far this year, Sacramento County has totaled up 69 confirmed cases of pertussis, compared with 59 for all of 2013, Kasirye said.

Of the 69 cases, 11 are children up to 1 year of age. Many are teenagers, and three are adults over the age of 18, Kasirye said. The disease tends to make resurgent appearances every three years or so, she said.

In the year 2011, California experienced the first year in two decades without any deaths from pertussis. The year before that, 2010, the state was hit with a whopping 9,159 cases and the deaths of 10 babies, nine of whom were Latino.

Already this year, California has seen two deaths of infants due to pertussis, one of them in Placer County and the other in Riverside County in Southern California.

People can carry and transmit the infection without exhibiting any obvious symptoms. When symptoms do set in, they can include runny nose and cough, but usually no fever. The cough, particularly in babies, can include a loud gasp for air, sometimes making a “whoop” sound. If babies or children become short of breath, gag, vomit, gasp or turn red or blue in the face, they should receive immediate medical attention.

Those who work with children at health centers, preschool, shops and other settings especially need to be immunized. Although infants as young as 2 months can receive the first of a series of four shots continued until 15 months of age, immunity takes months to build up, Kasirye said. When kids reach kindergarten age, they receive a booster shot.

The cough that comes with pertussis can last up to 10 weeks. A person who contracts pertussis can be treated with antibiotics.

Placer County Public Health Officer Rob Oldham said that, in the more populated areas of Roseville, Rocklin, Lincoln and Auburn, “We have a concerning number of cases.” The problem is widespread, not concentrated in specific neighborhoods, Oldham said.

“It’s been a big problem in Placer County,” he said, noting that in 2013, the county had more whooping cough cases than Sacramento County.

“The hypothesis behind this is the lower rate of vaccination in Placer County,” Oldham said. But he said he believes the vaccination rate may turn around, partially because the recent influenza season left so many people regretting that they had not gotten a flu shot.

“The buzz is out there. Folks are starting to turn the tide as a lot of people get frustrated with those who are opposed to vaccinations,” Oldham said. “People are saying enough is enough, and they are going to the Internet to find the science that shows risks associated with vaccines are tiny compared to the risk of getting a severe disease.”