Whooping cough on the rise, county health officials warn

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY — The number of cases of whooping cough in Santa Cruz County has more than doubled during the first four months of 2018, county officials announced Monday.

In January through April, 11 cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, were confirmed, compared to five cases in the same period of 2017.

“Pertussis disease rates are cyclic, peaking every 3 to 5 years," said Naomi Lobell, immunization coordinator for Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency. "The last epidemic in California was 2014. We don’t know yet if 2018 or 2019 will turn out to be peak years, but vigilance is in order.”

County Health Officer Dr. Arnold Leff emphasized the importance of immunizations. 

“Pertussis is covered in the DTaP shot, given to babies at age 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and 12 months," he said. "Booster shots are given again before kindergarten and middle school. Summer is a good time to get immunizations, so students are ready for school in the fall. Adults who have never received a dose of Tdap should also get vaccinated against pertussis.”

In 2010, a statewide outbreak of whooping cough killed 10 people, and required more than 800 hospitalizations in the 9,000 people who caught the disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. It was the largest outbreak of the disease reported in California in 60 years.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whooping cough usually starts with cold-like symptoms and possibly a mild cough or fever. In babies, the cough can be minimal or not even there. Babies may have a symptom known as "apnea," which is a pause in the child's breathing pattern. Pertussis is most dangerous for babies. About half of babies younger than 12 months who get the disease need to be hospitalized.

Early symptoms can last for one to two weeks and usually include:

• Runny nose

• Low-grade fever (generally minimal throughout the course of the disease)

• Mild, occasional cough

• Apnea – a pause in breathing (in babies)

Pertussis in its early stages appears to be nothing more than the common cold. Therefore, healthcare professionals often do not suspect or diagnose it until the more severe symptoms appear.

After one to two weeks and as the disease progresses, the traditional symptoms of pertussis may appear and include:

• Paroxysms (fits) of many rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched "whoop" sound

• Vomiting (throwing up) during or after coughing fits

• Exhaustion (very tired) after coughing fits

For information, visit www.cdc.gov/pertussis.

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