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Public Urged To Get Whooping Cough Vaccine

Pertussis cases reported in San Diego County from January through July 2009 and 2010. (SOURCE: SD County HHSA)
Pertussis cases reported in San Diego County from January through July 2009 and 2010. (SOURCE: SD County HHSA)
Whooping Cough Blamed In Death Of S.D. Infant

The death of a San Diego baby this week has prompted health officials to call for people of all ages to be immunized against whooping cough. Seven babies in California have died from whooping cough since January, 2010.

The illness affects children and adults, but is most serious with infants. It can cause violent bursts of coughing, sometimes followed by a “whoop” sound as those affected gasp for air.

Health officials have declared a whooping cough epidemic in California and statistics indicate this may be the worst outbreak in 50 years.

Elizabeth Rosenblum is a family practitioner at University of California, San Diego Medical Center.

Rosenblum has been treating older kids and even adults for whooping cough.

“I took care of a patient last year who was actually a physician he just could not stop coughing. He came in and it turned out it was pertussis. If you have a cough and it lasts for more then one month one out of five chance you have pertussis,” Rosenblum says.

And you could pass it on to infants. Who are most severely affected.

“The thing is with young babies they get so ill with pertussis and usually happens very quickly, 50 percent of them will end up in the hospital,” she says.

Dr. Elizabeth Rosenblum

Most cases of whooping cough can be prevented with a vaccine. But babies under six months are too young to be fully immunized.

Recent studies have also suggested some mutated strains of the disease may be resistant to the vaccine, including a paper published in Emerging Infectious Diseases earlier this year.

Five of the six most recent cases in San Diego County affected vaccinated children.

Dr. Shane Crotty is a vaccine expert at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology.

“The bacteria isn’t the problem, the vaccine is not the problem, it's that people are not getting the vaccine,” Crotty says.

He says the whooping cough vaccine is not 100 percent effective but stops most people from getting sick. He says the bigger problem is that older children and adults aren’t getting boosters. Immunity to the disease does not last a lifetime.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children under the age of six receive five doses of the vaccine -– and since the California epidemic, state health officials are also recommending boosters for older kids and adults.

Science has been so successful at nearly eradicating so many childhood diseases, it's tough to convince a new generation some of these illnesses still pose a threat, Crotty says.

“Once nobody sees that disease around anymore, say polio or whooping cough or measles, you know you don’t see people with these diseases, people are less afraid,” he says.

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