The California Department of Public Health announced that there have been 4,017 confirmed, probable and suspect cases of whooping cough (pertussis) reported in the state so far this year, up to September 14 – a state rate of 10.3 cases per 100,000 people. The number of weekly reported cases has dropped slightly recently, with 183 new cases this week and 234 cases the week before.

The last time so many cases were reported was in 1955, with 4,949 cases. The current incidence of whopping cough is the highest since 1962, when it reached 10.9 cases per 100,000 people. The previous peak in total reported cases was in 2005 (3,182 cases).

Of the reported cases, health authorities say 65% are confirmed, 20% are probable and 15% are suspect.

Authorities say 11.2% of infected patients have been hospitalized. 57% of those hospitalized were infants (vey young babies).

Of the 9 deaths reported so far:

  • 8 were Hispanic infants
  • 8 were infants aged less than two months at the time of disease onset
  • None of the 8 infants less than two months old had received any doses of pertussis-containing vaccine
  • 1 was an ex-28 week premature baby who was 2 months old at the onset of the disease who had received the first dose of DTaP 15 days before becoming ill.

Health authorities inform that of the babies who have caught whooping cough, the majority are infants aged three months or less.

The incidence of whooping cough (pertussis) is highest among babies aged up to six months – 184 cases per 100,000; in children aged 7-9 years – 33 cases per 100,000; and adolescents aged 10-18 – 24 cases per 100,000.

Most adolescent cases are aged 10 or 11 years.

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough is an extremely contagious respiratory disease, caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. The patient typically has an uncontrollable and violent cough, which may cause breathing difficulties.

After fits of several coughs, the whooping cough patient will often need to take deep breaths which can make a whooping sound. Pertussis coughing fits can last for up to 10 weeks or more; hence its nickname, the 100 day cough.

Infants and young children are especially susceptible to complications of whooping cough. Very young babies are more vulnerable to the fatal complications of the diseases.

The best way to protect yourself form pertussis is to take the vaccination. There are vaccines for children, teens and adults. The childhood vaccine is called DTaP, while the booster vaccine for adolescents and adults is called Tdap.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), there are 30-50 million cases of pertussis and about 300,000 deaths per year worldwide.

Since the 1980s, the number of reported cases of pertussis in the USA has been increasing, especially among 10-19 year olds and infants aged less than 6 months.

Over 50% of babies less than 1 year old who become infected need to be hospitalized.

Written by Christian Nordqvist