Healthy Choices

Pertussis continues its march across the state, hitting Sacramento County hard

Pertussis is continuing to spread across California, public health officials said Friday, with the number of whooping cough cases in Sacramento County so far this year nearly doubling what the county confirmed for the entire year in 2013.

Among three other counties in the capital region, only Yolo County is seeing a similarly dramatic increase, though the number of cases confirmed there is far lower.

Statewide, the California Department of Public Health has counted 2,649 pertussis – or whooping cough – cases from the start of the year through Tuesday. In April alone, more than 800 people from Eureka to Escondido contracted the disease, said Dr. Ron Chapman, the state’s health officer.

Infants are especially vulnerable to whooping cough, Chapman said, noting that before year’s end, “the number of pertussis cases is likely to continue to increase.”

Everyone, particularly those who are around babies – such as parents, care providers and health care workers – should get the pertussis immunization. It’s especially important for women who are pregnant to receive a pertussis vaccine booster during their third trimester so the shot’s immune properties are transferred to their babies.

Newborns are not old enough to receive whooping cough immunizations until 2 months of age, after which boosters are given at 4 months and 6 months.

Health officials in Sacramento County confirmed 137 cases so far, compared with 70 cases total in all of last year. In 2010, the worst year in recent memory, the county saw 175 cases.

In Yolo County, 14 cases have been counted this year, up from four in 2013.

El Dorado County has reported only two cases so far this year, compared with last year’s total of four. And Placer County has confirmed 37 cases, less than half of the 85 cases reported in 2013.

Health officials say whooping cough is a cyclical disease that peaks every three or four years and then settles down. It was so widespread in California in 2010 that officials made vaccinations mandatory before a child could attend public school – except in cases when parents opted not to get their kids immunized.

A new law effective this yearmandated that parents be informed of the risks by a doctor before deciding against vaccinating their children. However, the law gives parents an out if they cite religious reasons for not consulting physicians.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory disease that is distinctive for its uncontrollable, violent cough that makes it difficult for sick people to catch their breath. Attempting a deep breath can cause the “whoop” sound that accompanies the disease.

But not all people who come down with pertussis make the telltale sound. They may have a runny nose or other coldlike symptoms in addition to the cough, which can last up to 10 weeks.

So far this year, two infants have died of pertussis in California, one in Placer County and the other in Riverside County. One of the babies contracted the disease last year.