Whooping Cough Epidemic Kills 5 Babies in California

Julie Ryan Evans

SyringeFive babies have died of whooping cough in California, and the state has declared it an epidemic.

Pertussis, the disease's official name, is extremely contagious. Already in California 910 cases have been confirmed, and several hundred more are being investigated. The California Department of Public Health says this may be the biggest outbreak of whooping cough in 50 years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), whooping cough starts out like a regular cold with a runny nose and cough, then after a week or so children begin to "cough violently and rapidly, over and over, until the air is gone from their lungs and they're forced to inhale with a loud ‘whooping' sound." 

For about 1 in 20 infants, it will develop into pneumonia; and about 1 in 100 has convulsions from it. In the most extreme cases, as in those in California, it can result in death.

As my daughter was up most of last night with an awful-sounding cough, I read this story with panic until I remembered she was vaccinated for it as an infant (it's part of the DTaP shot), so hers is likely just a summer cold.

The infants who have died recently in California have all been under 3 months. Officials say in the largely Latino agricultural region where the deaths have occurred, inoculation rates are lower, which contribute to the outbreak. Also, even though the first vaccine against pertussis is typically given when a baby is 2 months old, it doesn't take full effect until he is about 6 months.

To be fully protected against whooping cough, the CDC recommends a series of DTaP shots given at 2, 4, and 6 months of age. A fourth shot is recommended between 15 and 18 months of age, and a fifth when a child enters school, at 4 to 6 years of age. They also recommend booster shots for adolescents and adults every 10 years.

I know vaccines are a divisive issue, and they admittedly terrify me, but stories like this make me glad I have chosen to vaccinate children ... as frightened and nauseated as I get with each shot.  

Do stories like this make you rethink your decisions about vaccinating your child or not?

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