Whooping cough cases spike in county
With a dramatic spike in the number of whooping cough cases in Santa Clara County, health officials are continuing to urge that young children and their caretakers be vaccinated. The infectious disease is particularly dangerous to infants, and can be fatal.
More than half of the cases of whooping cough reported in the county this year came during the month of July, county health officials reported.
According the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, 45 cases of whooping cough were reported in the county as of July 8. To date, that number has risen to101 reported cases. Four of the July cases were in Mountain View.
California is in the midst of a whooping cough epidemic this year, said Joy Alexiou, a public health spokeswoman for the county.
At the end of June, 910 cases of whooping cough had been reported statewide, up from 219 from June of last year. Santa Clara County has also seen a marked rise in whooping cough, according to Alexiou; only 25 cases of the disease were reported in Santa Clara County for all of 2009.
Recently, that rise has been even more pronounced, Alexiou said. At the end of June, she told the Voice that she expected incidents of the disease in the county — then tallied at 33 — to at least double by the end of the year. In just one month, the reported cases have more than tripled.
"We are concerned that we may still have many more cases ahead of us," she said.
"Whooping cough isn't really that seasonal," she said, explaining the mid-summer spike. "We see it throughout the year. Often, more cases come about in August and September."
Whooping cough, also called pertussis, gets its name from the sound associated with the severe cough it causes, as infected individuals may make a whooping sound as they gasp for breath in the midst of severe coughing spells. However, the disease is really only dangerous for infants, who are especially vulnerable to whooping cough, Alexiou said.
"Our advice is to make sure children are up to date on their vaccines," Alexiou said. "If you care for a child under the age of 1 you should get a vaccine, as well."
Even healthy people should consider vaccination, Alexiou said, as they often do not realize they have whooping cough and may unwittingly pass on the disease to children.
The symptoms are similar to those of a cold — runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever and coughing. However, Alexiou said, unlike a cold, whooping cough is bacterial, not viral, and the cough it causes is much more severe.
Healthy adults who contract pertussis are likely to develop a severe cough after cold-like symptoms subside, but will be able to get well without medical intervention, according to Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, a health officer for Santa Clara County. It can be treated with antibiotics, which will help cut down on an individual's infectiousness, but even with treatment the cough is often persistent, according to Fenstersheib.
Fenstersheib said that whooping cough can be spread through the air and can be picked up by touching surfaces contaminated with the bacteria.
Six whooping cough deaths have been reported in California this year — all of them in babies younger than 1. Infants, Alexiou explained, cannot begin the vaccination process until 2 months old, and do not complete the cycle until subsequent booster shots at 4 months and 6 months.
Alexiou said that there is adequate supply of whooping cough vaccine to go around and that those interested in receiving the vaccine will be able to get one through county health services and private providers.