LOS ANGELES — Whooping cough is now an epidemic in California, and is on pace to break a 50-year record for infections for the year.
As of June 15, California had 910 recorded cases of the highly contagious disease, and five babies — all under 3 months of age — have died from the disease this year. One of those babies was in Stanislaus County, which has tallied 30 cases of the respiratory illness this year, already exceeding the count in 2009, when there were 17.
"Children should be vaccinated against the disease, and parents, family members and caregivers of infants need a booster shot," California Department of Public Health director Dr. Mark Horton said Wednesday.
The state declares an epidemic after a significant increase in the number of illnesses to a broad swath of the state's population, said state health department spokesman Ken August.
This year's surge in cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a fourfold increase from the same period last year, when 219 cases were recorded.
At least 600 additional cases are under investigation by local health departments. Officials fear that with the number of known and suspected cases at 1,510, the state is on track to beat 1958's record 3,847 cases; midway through that year, 1,200 cases had been reported.
In the Bay Area, the number of cases has increased sixfold, but no deaths have been reported there.
There is no shortage of vaccines, which are provided for free to hospitals and participating counties by the state health department.
Whooping cough cases tend to rise in July and August.
Nationally, 23 weeks into 2010, there were 4,656 cases of whooping cough, compared with 6,017 cases in the same period in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health officials say whooping cough is cyclical and tends to peak every two to five years.
A typical case starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks, followed by weeks or months of rapid coughing fits that sometimes end with a whooping sound. Fever is rare.
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