There were no reported cases of whooping cough deaths in the State of California in 2011, says the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) – the first time this has occurred in two decades. Californian health officials say this is due to three factors: 1. Higher vaccination rates. 2. Greater awareness of the disease, and 3. Faster diagnoses of sick patients.

48.5 million people are thought to become ill with Bordetella pertussis (whooping cough) each year globally, of which approximately 295,000 die from the diseases, according to WHO (World Health Organization). Whooping cough is a communicable, vaccine-preventable disease, caused by Bordetella pertussis, a gram-negative coccobacillus.

Dr. Ron Chapman, director of CDPH, said:

“Greater awareness of the disease, more rapid diagnosis and treatment, and increased vaccination rates contributed to saving the lives of infants,” said Chapman. “I thank our public health and medical communities for working together and being especially vigilant following the 2010 epidemic.”

CDPH declared a statewide emergency in 2010 when 9,000 people became ill with whooping cough and ten infants died from the disease. The Department liaised closely with health care providers and local health departments throughout the state, and implemented strategies to improve disease control and informational alerts.

Free vaccines were offered to hospitals, where new parents could be vaccinated, thus protecting their infants from transmission of whooping cough (pertussis). During the autumn of 2011, a 7th to 12th grade child was required to have had a Tdap booster shot.

There were 3,000 reported pertussis cases last year in California. There has not been a whooping cough death in the state since 13th October, 2010. In 2005, there were also 3,000 reported cases, but in that year eight infants died of the disease.

Two decades before (1991) there were only 249 reported cases of pertussis in one year in the state.

Whooping cough complications are of concern for young infants. A significantly high percentage of infants under the age of three months who become infected need to be hospitalized. Last year there were 575 reported cases in this age group 2011, of which 244 (42%) had to be admitted to hospital. However, this is a lower percentage than 59% in 2010.

Pertussis lores
A female infant diagnosed with Pertussis, coughing

The pertussis vaccine loses its protective effect after some time; therefore a booster shot is required.

In a communiqué, CDPH wrote:

“The new school immunization law is intended to further protect communities by ensuring that adolescents, who may no longer be immune to whooping cough, are vaccinated.

CDPH produced public service announcements in English and Spanish and partnered with the California Broadcasters Association to encourage media outlets to air the ads aimed at raising awareness about pertussis and the new California law.”

CDPH urges adults, especially those working or living with infants, to have a Tdap shot.

Written by Christian Nordqvist