Whooping cough cases increase, health officials recommend vaccinations
Citing an increasing number of cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, county public health officials Wednesday urged San Diegans to get vaccinated, particularly those most at risk of becoming seriously ill.
According to county data, the number of pertussis illnesses jumped from 12 in September to 57 in October. Spikes in pertussis happen every three to five years, they said, and the last peak was in 2017. The current rise in illness reports is the first since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, when COVID prevention steps also kept pertussis cases down, officials said.
"We're seeing pertussis spreading in rates similar to before the pandemic," said Dr. Wilma Wooten, county public health officer. "This is concerning because we know that post-pandemic, many people are experiencing vaccine fatigue. Yet what we have learned over the last several years is that vaccines, hand washing, masking and other precautions help curb the spread of illness."
Pregnant women and people who come into close contact with young infants are strongly urged to be vaccinated, a county statement read. Newborns are especially susceptible to pertussis since they are too young to be fully vaccinated. The last reported pertussis death in the county was a 5-week-old San Diego infant who died in July 2016.
A typical case of pertussis starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks, followed by weeks to months of rapid coughing fits that sometimes end with a whooping sound. Fever, if present, is usually mild. Antibiotics can lessen the severity of symptoms and prevent the spread of disease to others.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following schedule for the Tdap vaccination that helps protect people from pertussis:
- A Tdap booster is recommended for pregnant women early in their third trimester and during each pregnancy to protect their newborns;
- Young children need five DTaP doses by kindergarten: at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months and 4 to 6 years;
- After that, the first Tdap booster is due at age 11 years. All students entering seventh grade are required to have proof of a whooping cough booster immunization;
- One dose of Tdap is recommended for adults 19 years of age and older who did not get Tdap as a teenager; and
- After that, getting Tdap instead of the standard tetanus shot every 10 years will also reduce infections.
Parents can obtain the DTaP vaccine series and the Tdap booster shot for their children and themselves through their primary care physicians, the county statement read. Local retail pharmacies offer vaccinations for a fee, and anyone who is not covered by a medical insurance plan can get the shot from a County Public Health Center at minimal or no cost.
For more information about whooping cough and ongoing vaccination clinics, call the county's Immunization Branch at 866-358-2966, or visit the county's website.